The First State is not exempt from the national shortage on school bus drivers.
The Delaware Department of Education (DOE) put out a notice this week saying school districts up and down the state are feeling “intense pressure” to hire enough drivers and bus aides in time for the start of the school year.
Many other states and cities across the country have reported similar shortages.
Delaware officials say some of the state’s larger districts are short by as many as 20 drivers.
Shawn Tidwell is supervisor of transportation for the Indian River School District. He says many of the busses in his district are serving two and even three different schools.
“I hope that I don’t have to add any more triples or more doubles, but that might be what I have to do in an effort to make do with the decreased number of busses,” said Tidwell.
A new double tier and triple tier allowance system is set to go into effect to further compensate busses in Delaware that serve more than one school.
Indian River, along with many other districts, have been running low on drivers for years, but with the start of the pandemic last year and the resulting lockdowns, many elderly drivers decided to retire, adding to the shortage.
“Many of our drivers are retirees who are in the high-risk category, and they love bus-driving, but when it came to the pandemic they made the decision to stop driving for their health and safety,” said Tyler Bryan, the education associate who leads the DOE transportation office.
Bryan adds there are also challenges with hiring due to competing sectors coming out of the lockdowns looking for workers.
Drivers and students in Delaware are wearing masks when on the bus and social distancing “when possible,” per the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Tidwell says social distancing was possible during last school year under the district’s hybrid learning schedule, but with this year’s large summer school class and minimal drivers, he says the distancing guidelines are not possible to meet. He adds it will make things “extremely difficult” if the state goes back to requiring distancing while riding the bus.
“We know some CDC guidelines change sometimes day to day, and we’re just waiting for the new guidance from the [Division of Public Health] and the state to see where we’re going,” said Tidwell.
Bus driver applicants need to obtain a CDL and meet physical, as well as legal and training requirements to be considered for the job.
Those interested in becoming a school bus driver or aide can contract the DDOE, Transportation Office at (302) 857-3390 or via email DOESchool.Transportation@doe.k12.de.us.