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Florida schools seek solutions to bus driver, teacher shortages

A roundup of Florida education news from around the state.
A school bus travels the early morning streets of Pasco County on the way to the first day of classes in 2017. [Jeffrey S. Solochek | Times]
A school bus travels the early morning streets of Pasco County on the way to the first day of classes in 2017. [Jeffrey S. Solochek | Times]
Published Jan. 5|Updated Jan. 5

The big story: School districts across Florida and the nation have struggled with bus driver shortages all year. Some, like Pinellas County, have offered students free public transit passes to help ease the load. Others have boosted driver wages and paid signing bonuses.

Pasco County schools took one of the most unusual and drastic steps in the effort to get children to campuses on time. The district changed all school start times and bus routes. The effort began on Tuesday. We asked residents to share their first-day experiences via Facebook. They revealed some successes, as well as some need for continued improvement. Here’s a sampling:

“First day of this entire year all my (John Long Middle) students were present and on time.” • “I have two children, one to Gulf High and one to Gulf Middle and both of their buses were on time.” • “My son goes to (Land O Lakes High) and nothing changed but the time. Traffic was awful. We left 40 minutes early and still 15 minutes late.” • ”My 8th grader also goes to (River Ridge Middle). Our bus was supposed to be there at 6:19 and didn’t get there until 7:05! Talk about being late for school.”

District officials said they anticipated a need to work out logistics during the first week or so, and had not expected perfection right away. As with the first day of a new school year, they figured most of the kinks would be resolved as everyone becomes more familiar with the times and routes.

Still, the issue of finding enough bus drivers in Pasco and elsewhere remains. It’s a concern that could intensify if some start to call in sick, as occurred in Duval County, WJXT reports. The federal government took steps Tuesday to make it easier for schools to hire drivers, by reducing some licensing requirements if the states agree. No word yet on whether Florida will take that step.

In other school news

It’s not just a shortage of bus drivers that has school leaders concerned. They might encounter some struggle to keep schools open if too many teachers are required to isolate because of the coronavirus, Politico reports. • It started happening one day into the new semester in parts of the state, with thousands of school employees calling in sick, Politico Florida reports. Many of the problems were in south Florida, the Miami Herald reports. Officials in other regions warned of similar concerns, including Orange County, as WFTV reports. School districts are trying to prepare for that eventuality, WPLG reports. More from Bay News 9, WPTV.

Officials are looking for ways to slow the spread, without violating new state laws that tie their hands. Leon County schools joined a growing list requiring adults to wear masks in indoor areas where they cannot socially distance, the Tallahassee Democrat reports. Strict student mask mandates are no longer legal in public schools, though private schools do not appear to face the same restrictions. • Florida’s private universities are announcing they’ll start the new semester virtually, while public universities are sticking with in-person classes, Florida Phoenix reports.

High school graduation rates are up again. A second year of the state waiving some key testing requirements because of the pandemic helped, the Orlando Sentinel reports. In the Tampa Bay area, Pinellas County led the way with a 92 percent rate, followed by Pasco County at 91 percent and Hillsborough County at 89.2 percent. See the state report on 2020-21 graduation rates here.

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Charter schools are here to stay. The Pasco County school district is looking to collaborate with some of the successful local charters as it copes with rapid enrollment growth.

Stop making threats. The Lee County school district is approaching a record number of threats of violence against campuses, WINK reports. Officials said they have zero tolerance for such actions, even if they turn out to be false threats.

Missed a story? You might find it in yesterday’s roundup.

Before you go ... We’ve had Grover Washington Jr. on replay lately. He’s been gone since 1999, but not forgotten. Here’s a hot track from one of his Jacksonville performances back in the day. Enjoy.

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