Kingston, Ont. area schools facing COVID-19-related staff shortages amid spike
At least a dozen school bus routes are being cancelled every day in the region and the shortage of staff is reaching into local schools as well.
The pickup line at Rideau Public School was longer than usual Wednesday afternoon.
The school is one of many across the region impacted by frequent school bus cancellations.
Wednesday alone saw more than 50 routes cancelled.
With Kingston’s COVID-19 numbers higher than anywhere else in the province, Tri-Board Student Transportation Services, like many other employers across the region, is dealing with employees out sick with the virus.
“One of our bus companies last week had eight per cent of their driver force who actually had COVID. Not contracted from the bus, necessarily, but contracted by their community,” said Gord Taylor, CEO of Tri-Board.
Taylor says some drivers left the job for health reasons at the beginning of the pandemic and more left when mask mandates were lifted in mid-March.
The shortage has now been made worse by drivers off with COVID-19.
“On any given day, one to two per cent of our routes are what we call ‘uncovered’, [meaning] we don’t have a driver for those routes. In Tri-Board’s world of 630-odd bus routes means 15, 16, 17 routes do not operate on a given day,” added Taylor.
Meanwhile, both the Limestone District School Board and the Algonquin & Lakeshore Catholic District School Board sent letters to parents in the last week indicating that it’s becoming difficult to maintain a full complement of staff daily, warning students could be asked to stay home.
“Late last week was particularly challenging as far as the number of staff absences, and they are certainly better this week, but again even those challenges last week those were several days in a row which were comparable to some higher dates where we had absences going back into February,” said Krishna Burra, Director of Education for the Limestone District School Board.
Algonquin & Lakeshore Catholic District School Board declined to do an on-camera interview with Global News but provided a statement saying they continue to work with public health, monitoring staff and student absences that approach or exceed the 30 per cent threshold, as outlined by the Ministry of Education.
Tri-Board says they are actively recruiting drivers, hiring a few dozen in the last few months.
Their hope is to staff up enough to avoid inconveniencing families long-term.
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