BECKLEY, WV (WVNS) — A national bus shortage has an impact on the education of West Virginia’s students, according to Fayette County School officials.
Fayette County Schools Superintendent Gary Hough said on Thursday, September 7, 2023, that there is a shortage of school bus drivers in Fayette County where more than 5,600 students are enrolled in public schools.
It’s also difficult, sometimes impossible, to find enough substitute bus drivers to fill the gap.
Hough said state lawmakers changed code to allow retired bus drivers to bus students when there are not enough substitute bus drivers.
Even with that help, Hough said, school mechanics sometimes step in to drive school buses.
Even with the substitutes, retirees, and mechanics playing a part, Hough said, there are days his district is forced to cancel buses.
“We haven’t had to cancel an entire run. We’ve had to cancel something for a day,” said Hough. “If we ever have to get in that mode, we try not to do the same one, if you understand what I’m saying. We have to move things around, try to minimize any impact you have on children, but you still have impact on children, due to the circumstances.”
On those days, the county goes to what is known as “Plan B.” Hogue said that is when bus drivers finish their own routes and then make another run to get kids to school and home again.
Kids are sometimes up to 90 minutes late for school and leave 90 minutes early, Matt Harper, the assistant principal at Midland Trail High School, said.
He said high percentage of Fayette County students rely on schools for breakfast and lunch.
“They do still get breakfast and lunch. The breakfast is a little bit later than everybody else’s, just because they get in later, but we still make sure that they have breakfast,” he said. “Lunch is still the regular time. Pretty much, once they finish lunch, they leave right after that.”
Instruction time is cut in half on Plan B days. Harper said teachers fill the gap by taking extra time to go over assignments and that they then use Schoology, similar to how educators taught during the pandemic.
Parents in Raleigh County have reported similar issues with cancelled bus runs to 59News, although Raleigh County Schools officials have not immediately responded to a request for comment.
Harper said student performance is likely impacted by interruptions to instruction time.
“I would love to say that, no, it won’t, but you know if they’re not in a classroom every time, you’d think it would affect it in some ways,” he said.
Hogue said West Virginia standards for bus driver certification are among the highest in the nation, which he doesn’t want to change, but the salaries are lower than the national average. Hogue added that his district is aggressively recruiting bus drivers.