Click here to view the interview with Nick Vallone, NYSBCA President.
WNYT News Channel 13 NBC | Capital District
Kumi Tucker and WNYT Staff
Dec. 22, 2021
All Albany schools went to distance learning because of COVID cases affecting 21 drivers and a dozen more bus employees.
It's the latest district to take that kind of action because of bus staffing issues, and bus contractors are worried it's going to get worse.
School transportation has been a struggle, starting with a national driver shortage.
Of course, this is an industry that can't work from home.
"We do not have the option to drive remotely, and with the rise in quarantines specifically due to close contacts, if the trends should continue, we are forecasting that we will run out of drivers during the winter months," said Nick Vallone, Executive Vice President of Rolling V Bus Corporation and President of the New York Bus Contractors Association.
That association represents more than 100 school transportation companies, taking half of all children who ride the bus to and from school every day.
President Nick Vallone is warning that a COVID spike could upset an already strained system, and they want to be prepared.
He says schools are already using solutions like route combinations.
"So it would only be to simply build on that option, and perhaps adjust more bell times and allow for more schedule flexibility in allowing us to perhaps double up runs," he said.
Some districts have changed their start times; some drivers make more pickup runs.
Vallone says it's a race against the clock to get drivers certified, and that they're working with the state to look at things like third party testing to help with the long process.
"Which our neighbors in Pennsylvania and New Jersey enjoy, which we firmly believe will cut that process down significantly, potentially in half, and allow us to get these individuals at the rate we need to get them behind the wheel," said Vallone. "All while doing it safely."
Times Union Article | Capital District
Albany schools first to shift remote as COVID-19 cases soar
Dec 21, 2021
ALBANY -- All Albany public schools will shift to distance learning Wednesday and will resume in-person learning on Jan. 3, according to a memo from the district.
The district is the first in the region to end in-school instruction early before the winter break as schools see their highest infection rates since the COVID-19 crisis began in March 2020.
Staffing considerations were a factor in the Albany district's decision, according to school officials.
Positive COVID-19 cases and related contacts in recent days have affected at least 21 First Student drivers and 12 additional employees for the bus company, a letter to Albany parents states.
"Due to these staffing shortages, we are unable to provide an adequate and safe level of service for students Wednesday," the notice reads.
The New York School Bus Contractors Association warned Tuesday that the recent COVID-19 spike and associated quarantines will have a major impact on school transportation after the holidays.
"While we are already struggling with a national driver shortage and barely managing to service all the required runs with the drivers we currently have, we are concerned that we will not be able to provide the required transportation service if the COVID cases continue to increase and impact our workforce," the group said in a statement.
It will be impossible to achieve full-service levels after the holidays if the infection rate climbs "even the smallest percent," according to the organization. "Alternative routing and modified session times appear to be the best options available to serve as many students as possible under these extreme conditions."
The Hudson Falls and Lansingburgh districts also indicated they are preparing for a potential school closure ahead of winter break, citing the rapid increase in positive cases.
"I have directed our administrators to work with the staff in each building to ensure that a plan is in place should the need arise to (temporarily) switch to remote instruction when we return after the holiday recess," Superintendent Antonio Abitabile wrote in a letter posted to the district website. "Between the rapid increase of positive cases due to the high transmissibility of the latest variant of COVID-19 and the strong likelihood of holiday gatherings in the next week, the district is taking steps now should our staffing levels decrease to a point that our buildings are unable to open for in-person instruction."
Click here to view the full article online.
School bus association concerned with COVID impact after holidays
News10 ABC | Capital District
Dec 21, 2021
GUILDERLAND, N.Y. (NEWS10) — The New York School Bus Contractors Association (NYSBCA) is concerned the recent spike of COVID-19 cases will have a major impact on the school transportation industry after the holidays.
“While we are already struggling with a national driver shortage and barely managing to service all the required runs with the drivers we currently have, we are concerned that we will not be able to provide the required transportation service if the COVID cases continue to increase and impact our workforce,” said NYSBCA Executive Director Tammy Mortier.
With COVID restrictions and after the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles shut down for four months, Mortier said the school transportation industry was able to return most of its service in September with a reduced staff. She said the spike in COVID has now slowed hiring and placed many drivers in quarantine.
“It will be impossible to achieve full-service levels after the holidays if the infection rate climbs even the smallest percent. Alternative routing and modified session times appear to be the best options available to serve as many students as possible under these extreme conditions,” said Mortier.
NYSBCA will continue to monitor the situation, communicate with communities and discuss temporary solutions to the problem. NYSBCA represents over one hundred school transportation companies and transports more than half of all the children who ride a school bus to and from school.
Click here to view the article online.