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Forestview school day to shorten to alleviate elementary wait times for buses

Right now, elementary students get out earlier than middle school students and can wait up to 30-40 minutes at the transfer station at the lower lot of the high school before heading home.

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A school bus drives its route Friday, Jan. 10, 2020, in Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Students at Forestview Middle School will see classes shortened by 2 minutes beginning Jan. 3.

The change, which has been planned since before the COVID-19 pandemic but not yet implemented, will cut down time elementary students have to wait in the bus transfer area at the high school at the end of the day.

Right now, elementary students get out earlier than middle school students and can wait up to 30-40 minutes at the transfer station at the lower lot of the high school before heading home, as students are not allowed to transfer buses until all buses are present.

With the schedule change, middle schoolers will get out of school 14 minutes earlier — about the same time as elementary kids.

“That eliminates a third wave of buses so we can get those buses moving and have our students sitting in the lower lot for a lot less time,” Assistant Superintendent Heidi Hahn told Brainerd School Board members Monday, Dec. 6.

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The district already provides more instructional minutes than required by the state department of education, Hahn said, meaning the shorter class periods will not be an issue in that regard. Those instructional minutes, however, will be added back to the day next year, with classes at Forestview starting at 8:15 a.m. instead of 8:25 a.m.

While this plan was thought up before the district began experiencing the current extreme bus driver shortage and not designed to deal with that issue, the alteration does mean that some drivers with shorter routes might be able to finish up by 3:45 p.m. and be available for after-school activities.

Hahn said this plan was supposed to have taken effect at the beginning of the school year but was not able to get implemented in time.
Forestview families can expect communication from Principal Jon Anderson and Transportation Director Norby Klimek explaining the change before the new year.

Driver shortage

Klimek himself picked up a route Monday morning as the district continues to experience a bus driver shortage. Parents have received phone calls each day over the past weeks to tell them certain buses will not be running each day, meaning families must find creative solutions to get their kids to school.

Three drivers went out for medical reasons last week, Klimek said, but there are currently 12 drivers in training, including two who will take their tests next week and then be able to drive for special trips and afternoon routes at Forestview.

Reichert — which provides bus services to the district — has hired four new drivers since the beginning of the school year but has had 18 come down with COVID-19, 11 take time off for other medical reasons and five leave their jobs completely for various reasons. One Reichert driver died from COVID-19 in October.

A few custodians are in training to drive, and a recently hired clerical worker already has a bus license and will begin driving when needed.
The community has stepped up to help fill gaps, Hahn said, noting the pastor at her church recently sent out an email to the congregation after hearing about the transportation issues.

For more information on transportation or for those interested in becoming licensed drivers, visit isd181.org/departments/transportation or call the transportation office at 218-454-6920.

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THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa .

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