Chicago Public School students face bus shortage, COVID protocols on 1st day back

CPS health screener for students among COVID-19 safety requirements

CPS faces bus shortage on 1st day back to class
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Roughly 2,100 CPS students are without bus service on their first day back at school Monday after many bus drivers resigned over COVID vaccine requirements.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Monday is the first day of the new school year for CPS students. They return in-person, with new COVID protocols in place and transportation challenges.

Some students at John Garvy Elementary School and across the city will be left without a bus ride on their first day of school.

CPS estimates that number to be roughly 2,100 kids.

A mass resignation of school bus drivers led to the cancellation of bus service for those students. Mostly selective enrollment and magnet school students are affected, officials said.

CPS said the bus companies have informed them that approximately 10% of their bus drivers have resigned, with at least 73 drivers resigning on Friday alone.

A statement from the district said, "According to the bus companies, the rush of resignations was likely driven by the vaccination requirements. As a result, the district went from being able to provide all eligible students a bus route, to being unable to accommodate transportation for approximately 2,100 students within a matter of days."

CPS has offered those families a $1,000 stipend for the first two weeks, with $500 per month after.

RELATED: 'I left in tears': Parents express concerns over COVID safety plan despite CPS vaccine mandate

CPS said it is saddened and frustrated by the situation, and apologizes to families who are impacted by this.

"I texted the principal last night to say, 'Are there any routes, have you heard anything, do you know what company?'" CPS parent Ebonie Davis said. "She said, 'We have no information.' I said, 'Do I need to bring them, what do I do?' She said, 'We're waiting, all we can do is wait.'"

In the end, Davis had to drive her twin girls, Layla and Leah, to Thorp Elementary, where they started the second grade. After spending hours on the phone, she was told there "should" be a bus to drop them off at day care when school let out. Fortunately, it was ready and waiting for the twins and others.

"I took of work the rest of the afternoon, because 'should' is not good enough for me. I need to make sure they're going to get on the bus," Davis said.

CPS parent Eric Dechant used his minivan to carpool several children to school, including his own.

"It's all hands on deck. I'm lucky enough where I work from home, so I do have a little bit of flexibility in the schedules, so I can drive," he said.

Dechant is picking up the pieces and helping other families after getting the news at the last minute.

"Disappointed, surprised, it was very, very short notice. So yesterday, Sunday, the last day before school started, it was chaos -- phone calls, emails, texts all day and everybody trying to figure out who is going to be where," he said.

Bus driver Michael Bowen believes many drivers are afraid to go back in a pandemic.

"They're scared to come back because it's gonna trickle down to the children, and it's a known fact whenever children catch this, it can kill an elderly person easily," he said.

CPS is not the only district struggling with a bus driver shortage. The issue is part of a larger national trend, with many drivers quitting or just retiring during the pandemic.

"They have to boost the pay to get them to come back," Bowen said.

Students are back in the classroom full-time and in-person for the first time since March of 2020.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot visited several schools Monday morning, welcoming kids back to class. Walking along a safe passage route to greet students and staff at Courtenay Elementary in Uptown was part of her schedule.

"Our schools are safe. CPS put in over $100,000,000 in mitigations, including improving ventilation, air purifiers in every classroom, additional cleaning, masks, partitions and so many other efforts to make sure that in this pandemic we are able to bring students back safely into their buildings, and we have," Lightfoot said.

Safety measures are in place, including universal masking and 3 feet of social distancing. Vaccinations are also required for much of the staff.

"Schools are by far the safest and best places for them to be, both academically, socially, emotionally and physically, for their health," said Dr. Anna Volerman, a pediatrician with University of Chicago Medicine.

WATCH: Mayor Lightfoot speaks on 1st day of school amid COVID, bus shortage

There are reminders for parents to keep sick kids at home and to run through a health screening each morning. Kids should also wash their hands and keep distance from others.

But some are nervous to send students back with rising COVID cases.

Mom Dovie Thurman said although she is not entirely confident with rising COVID numbers, she is excited for her daughter to start the fifth grade.

"I'm OK; I'm a little nervous because I don't feel like we're out of the woods as far as COVID but one day at a time," she said.

Parent Latrell McMahon said it's good school is starting again and officials appear to be putting safety first.

"The schools are going to protect our children; we're going to make sure we do our job as parents," Nathalie McMahon said. "So I'm pretty happy."

And parents are trying to do their parts to ensure their kids follow the rules.

"She'll keep her mask on all day, she may take hers off every now and then, but I feel like they will be fine, you know, we have everything prepared at home if anything does arise," Joniqua Sanders said.

The kids also enjoyed being back in the classroom.

"It was good. I had to do a little tour because it was new being back," said Evan Griffin, 2nd grader.

There were some jitters for students today, but smiles made it clear that they were as happy to be back in school as their parents were to have them there.