Just like many other school districts in Central Florida, Marion County Schools is having a difficult time hiring bus drivers. Their message to parents: have some patience, especially when it comes to students who ride the bus.
“We’ve been able to hire some drivers, but we haven’t been able to hire enough. So what we have to do is we have to put district people into those roles. Transportation people with a CDL license who have the legal jurisdiction to drive a bus and can do so, and that’s what we do until we can hire more drivers and train them or until those drivers who are out come back,” said Director of Public Relations Kevin Christian. “We have some drivers doubling up on routes. That delays the arrival time to school for some kids.”
The district was down 15 to 20 bus drivers on the first day of school. That’s on top of several drivers being out due to COVID-19, according to the district.
After school, some students at Belleview-Santos Elementary ran to hug their parents who were picking them up. Other than some logistical issues, students and parents said the first day was a success.
“He was excited to come back to school,” said Ruby Hill, whose son attends Belleview-Santos Elementary School.
Students News 6 spoke to seemed happy to be back.
“I had a great time and I learned,” said elementary school student Noel Small.
Other students and teachers said the first day back was successful for the most part.
“It was good, I had some friends in my classes,” said eighth-grader Desirae Champagne.
Belleview Middle School Principal Dr. Dion Gary said those in attendance for the first day seemed excited for the start of the year.
“Students seem happy to be here with their friends, see teachers and smiling faces,” Gary said. “We are missing about 200 students that didn’t show up today so we’re hoping in the next week or so all of our students will arrive.”
As far as face coverings go, it was a mixed bag in Marion County. The district made it optional for students and teachers.
“There was not that many people wearing masks in class,” Champagne said.
Her mom said she wanted her daughter to wear a mask to protect her younger siblings not old enough to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Half of the people don’t wear masks, half do. With the new variant, it’s tough, but it’s better for them to have a social life,” Jessica Estep said.
Some parents opted out of brick-and-mortar schools altogether.
“Healthwise, yes. I am concerned about the COVID thing and keeping my sons at home, I think it would be a lot safer,” said a mom News 6 spoke to at the district office.
For students in school, the district said it will take a few weeks to get in the swing of things as far as bus routes, pick-up lines and class logistics.
Marion County public school officials said they will continue to push for more bus drivers and will do what they can to get kids to and from school safely.