Mat-Su school bus driver shortage due to COVID-19 causes numerous route cancellations

One school in the district has moved into the medium risk category, and masks will be required there starting Tuesday
The Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District is experiencing a bus driver shortage due to...
The Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District is experiencing a bus driver shortage due to COVID-19.(WRDW)
Published: Aug. 23, 2021 at 1:21 PM AKDT|Updated: Aug. 23, 2021 at 9:11 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District is experiencing a bus driver shortage after some tested positive for COVID-19, causing the cancellation of bus routes affecting several schools, which are expected to continue throughout the week.

“The health advisory team met, the administration met, and we decided a path forward — and since we anticipate that this is probably going to be a problem all week, we are preparing communication for parents,” said Superintendent Randy Traini on Monday.

Traini said there was already a shortage of drivers with the school bus company First Student used by the district even before some of them tested positive for COVID-19. He says a total of 13 schools and numerous bus routes were impacted on Monday as a result. Although some students were absent from classes on Monday, Traini says those absences aren’t necessarily related to the cancelation of routes.

“It’s also the fair and also hunting season,” he said. “I’m actually pretty pleased, most of the schools had pretty great attendance (Monday).”

In an email sent out to families Sunday night, the school district said the bus routes will be canceled for the day and “possibly throughout this next week.” However, special education bus services will not be “impacted by the cancelation,” the email said.

Currently, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District does not require masks on school buses despite a federal Department of Transportation requirement. The U.S. Department of Transportation says drivers and passengers on buses, including school buses, are required to wear masks according to a CDC order released in August. Traini says he’s not sure yet if his school district’s policy will change.

“What we’re doing with our mask policy is we are trying to respond to the cases that we see happen in the schools, or in this case on the buses, but they’re usually related because bus service is generally by school,” he said. “So we’re only four days in, we haven’t seen a huge number of cases concentrated in any one school yet.”

Other school districts in Alaska that are not requiring masking in schools, like Fairbanks North Star Borough School District and the Kenai Peninsula Borough District, are still requiring them on buses, per the federal requirement.

According to the Mat-Su Borough School District’s COVID-19 data hub, 46 of their schools are currently in the low risk category, meaning there have been minimal confirmed cases of the virus within the past 14 days, and that masks are recommended, but not required. Currently, Mat-Su Career and Tech is the only school in the medium risk level, which means all students and staff will have to mask up starting Tuesday. There are currently no schools in the district in the high risk category.

By Monday evening, the school district had reported a total of 59 COVID-19 cases in 21 of its schools over the last seven days, according to its website. At Mat-Su Career Tech, there have been 11 cases over the last seven days.

Traini says he’s not sure how long the route cancelations will last.

“All we know is that First Student is doing their best to try to get enough drivers so that they can man all of the routes, and we feel like we have a pretty good plan going forward if this extends,” he said.

According to an email from the district to families, all absences were excused for students who missed school on Monday due to the bus service cancellations.

The district later on Monday announced a list of outages for numerous schools through the rest of the week.

“To spread the impact out among the District, schools will remain open, but the Administration will institute rolling transportation cancellations for regular education bus service,” the update reads.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with additional information.

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