The East Grand Forks Public School District has reached a "crisis point" in its bus driver shortage, Superintendent Mike Kolness said at a School Board meeting Monday night, Oct. 26.
Kolness told the board that two bus routes will not have drivers to staff them on Tuesday morning, Oct. 27, and will likely remain unstaffed for the rest of the week. He said he expects a decision to suspend some routes is coming.
"We're going to have to depend on parents in some situations to have to transport the children," Kolness said. "We just don't have another option right now. We're looking at everything."
The district has grappled with a shortage of bus drivers all year, but the problem has been stretched in the last few days, when multiple bus routes have had to quarantine due to potential exposure to COVID-19.
Two routes are quarantined as of Monday, Kolness said. In total, 224 students and 25 teachers were absent from East Grand Forks schools for coronavirus-related reasons. Those numbers include one preschool class and one New Heights Elementary School class that are quarantined, as well as a portion of one athletic team.
Since the beginning of the year, there have been 18 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the district. That number is limited to people who were physically in school buildings during their infectious period, Kolness said.
Kolness said New Heights Elementary School is a point of concern, with 59 students and 11 teachers absent Monday. Four people have tested positive for COVID-19 at New Heights since the beginning of the school year.
Polk County Public Health Director Sarah Reese told the board that although those numbers seem high, a deeper dive into local data shows COVID-19 numbers in East Grand Forks schools remain at a manageable level. From an epidemiological standpoint, her recommendation is still to keep elementary students in in-person classes, and middle and high school students attending in-person classes and distance learning classes on alternating days.
But Kolness said staffing shortages are quickly becoming a greater concern than confirmed positive cases, and he suggested surveying parents in the district again to gather opinions on transitioning to a more restrictive learning model.
"I've had many people talk to me about making sure we try to keep kids in school," he said. "But I've also had more people in the last day or two talk to me about, you know, you need to take a look at this. The (Polk County 14-day average number of cases per capita) is over 30. Why haven't you switched?"