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DOE suspends dozens of school bus routes amid driver shortage

The state has had a shortage of school bus drivers since the school year began — and the Omicron surge has only made things worse.
Published: Jan. 18, 2022 at 11:44 PM HST|Updated: Jan. 19, 2022 at 2:52 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state has had a shortage of school bus drivers since the school year began — and the Omicron surge has only made things worse.

As of Tuesday, two dozen routes are suspended statewide.

With little relief in sight, families say the DOE should have had a backup plan.

Lorraine Keohuloa and her family live in Captain Cook on Hawaii Island. She has one granddaughter attending Konawaena Elementary and another at the middle school.

She says they were notified on Monday at around noon that some bus routes were cancelled Tuesday.

“Today, my two granddaughters didn’t go to school because their bus was canceled in the morning,” said Keohulua.

Randy Tanaka, assistant superintendent for the DOE’s Office Facilities and Operations, said they were down eight drivers over the past week — four in Kona and another four in Hilo.

“We’re going to go through this for a little while longer,” said Tanaka.

With schools being online for nearly two years, many bus drivers found other jobs.

Tanaka says they can’t bring in just anyone to replace them.

“We have looked at schools even purchasing smaller vans, 15 passenger vans that do not require the licensing requirements, CDL and things of that nature under 15 to provide a shuttle,” Tanaka said.

“We’re also looking at changing what is called bell schedules, so we can provide more shuttles.”

But Keohuloa said after two years, the state should have had a plan in place by now.

“Everybody’s just wandering around,” said Keohuloa. “They don’t know what to do or waiting for the next person to do it. There’s no leadership, there’s no taking responsibilities.”

For now, she said the best way for her grandkids to learn is online.

“Many parents had a hard time, the students have hard time,” said Keohuloa.

“But trying to find a ride to school and your child missing school because we can’t get transportation, they’re not learning anything in that.”

The governor says federal funding will help pay for the National Guard to help with food service and cleaning in public schools, but they can’t drive school buses until they have a commercial driver’s license.

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