RCSD superintendent makes ‘heartbreaking’ proposal amid bus driver shortage

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — The school bus companies that drive students in the Rochester City School District are so strapped for drivers, they forced the superintendent to make what she called a "heartbreaking" proposal Friday.

The proposal: delay the start of school by one day and start high school remotely.

At least three school board members said remote is not an option and they want a two-week delay to the start of school.

"I can’t do online learning again," East High student Sarah Adams said. "I cannot."

Under Superintendent Dr. Lesli Myers-Small’s proposal, Adams will not be remote because she attends East High, which operates independently from RCSD, but the message from students was clear.

"Yall, I want my senior year," School of the Arts senior Briana Williams said. "I’ve been talking about my senior year since I was in kindergarten."

"Everybody knows remote learning sucks," Kenyon Binns, president of Parent Leadership Advisory Council said.

That was the reaction from students and parents at the emergency school board meeting Friday. It’s all about a critical shortage of school bus drivers, to the point where there are not enough drivers to open school for every student.

Here is a breakdown of Myers-Small’s proposal:

  • delay the opening of school by one day
  • K through 8, remains in-person
  • 9 through 12 starts remote

"We have this crisis that is crippling us in our ability to do what we need to do and to focus on having everyone come back," Myers-Small said.

After her presentation and the comments from students, three board members — Adams, LeBron, and Clark — said they would vote no to remote learning, and they want the superintendent to delay the start of school by two weeks to fix the busing problem.

I asked the Myers-Small if a two-week delay is possible.

"You know what Berkeley, I can’t even answer that right now," Myers-Small said. "As far as a two-week delay, I’m sure what I can say, what I can say with assurity is there will be a delay. To what extent or how many days that entails, I don’t know that at this point."

The thought of going remote again was just too much for Ebony McLarty, a mother to two city high schoolers and a city school teaching assistant.

"I can’t go to them from the computer and say you hungry?" McLarty yelled to the school board. "’You want something to eat today?’ I can’t reach them!"

"When you don’t have enough drivers and you don’t have all of the runs covered, how do we figure out how to do this together?" Myers-Small said. She also said people were texting and emailing her during Friday’s meeting. "Community partners said, "Lesli, we’re with you, and we’re going to do whatever we can to make it sooner rather than later."

The proposal might give parents like Jessica Schultz some relief. Her two children are going to School 46 which, under the proposal, will be in person. Before Friday’s meeting, she was told there weren’t any buses to get her children to school.

"There’s not even an answer. They can’t give me a definite date. They just told me I’ll hear something in the mail," she said.

I say relief for Schultz because Friday’s proposal would provide busing for K through 8 schools.

You need a special license to transport children so, absent a waiver from the New York State Education Department, the district can’t hire Uber or Lyft to do it or anyone else with a basic CDL license.

Three weeks ago, the district staggered its start times because of a driver shortage. But the bus companies — First Student and Monroe — lost so many drivers in the last month, they told the district Wednesday they don’t have enough drivers anymore.

Parents, expect a call from the superintendent or your principal over Labor Day Weekend.

Parents of charter and private schools beware: RCSD is obligated to provide "equal" transportation to children who attend charter schools and private schools. However, if the proposal to make high school remote is accepted, there will be no busing to city high schools and therefore, that may impact busing to your charter or private school.