‘There’s a lot of unknowns’: Chesterfield parents concerned about transportation, COVID ahead of first day of school

Chesterfield County

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va (WRIC) – Students in Goochland, Powhatan and Chesterfield counties are gearing up for their first day of school Monday morning. With that, parents have some back-to-school concerns ahead of the new school year.

Goochland County Public Schools students will start school in-person Monday. The district chose not to offer a virtual option to parents and their kids. Superintendent Jeremy Raley asks parents to keep their children home if they’re experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.

At Powhatan County Public Schools, students’ first day is tomorrow as well. The district is hiring bus drivers, asking parents to be patient as bus drivers will be late due to traffic conditions and ‘other varying factors’. There are links on their website to find bus information for students. If the information for a student isn’t included in the information, the district is asking parents to find the nearest bus stop and call the transportation office for help.

Some parents of Chesterfield County Public School students are scrambling to find a way to get their kids to school Monday, still dealing with the school district’s shortage of about 100 bus drivers. Elementary school students in Grades 1-5, as well as sixth and ninth graders will head back to the classroom on Aug. 23. Kindergarteners are on a staggered start schedule until Aug. 27. The county’s remaining middle and high school students start the new school year on Aug. 24.

With 98% of CCPS students going back in-person Monday, superintendent Merv Daugherty recently released a message urging parents to help the bus driver shortage by driving their kids to school.

Some CCPS parents are getting messages on the school’s system called “Versatrans” saying there is no bus available for their child.

An email sent to parents at Providence Middle School Sunday said if your child does not have a bus stop, time or bus number listed in Versatrans, parents should have a backup plan on getting their students to and from school until the information is available in the system.

One mom of a child who goes to Providence Middle School told 8News Sunday the bus driver shortage could be a critical issue for parents, especially for those who may have kids in multiple schools. She wonders where the district’s contingency plan for the shortage is.

Chesterfield mom Vanessa Mccauley said her family isn’t looking forward to the new year, anxious about the delta variant but also about the transportation issues.

“It was a really short summer. There’s a lot of anxiety going in and I’m lucky that both of my kids are vaccinated,” she said. “Just anxiety with delta and the breakthroughs and just, you know, worry as a mom sending them into, like, the danger zone.”

Her kids, Jillian and Tristan, will be going back to school this week at Robious Middle and James River High. Mccauley said she’s talked with her kids about making sure they have their masks on at all times, reminding them to wash their hands and distance from others.

“I don’t know how easy that’s going to be in the hallways and things like that,” she said.

Both of them have bus stop information in the system, but Mccauley is worried she may not be able to trust they’ll get picked up on time. She said in years past, there have been times where her kids were late to school because the bus wasn’t on time.

Mccauley and her husband both work full-time, so they rely on the bus to take their kids to and from school. She told 8News she’s hoping the buses arrive on time this year, because otherwise, they’re not sure how they’ll have to change plans to get their kids to and from school.

She said the school district should’ve let parents know much earlier that the bus driver shortage would be an issue, long before a week ahead of the first day of school.

“They could’ve done a better job, if they had given us more warning, we could’ve set up carpools, things like that. Because that’s the other thing; even driving, I can’t imagine what the pickup and drop off is going to look like because I know what it was like before when they weren’t asking all the parents to drive. So, yeah, it’s just, there’s a lot of unknowns,” she told 8News in an interview Sunday.

CCPS chief communications and community engagement officer Shawn Smith responded to 8News’ questions Sunday saying, “Students will be transported from each existing bus stop; however, we want families to be aware there could be delays due to driver shortages.”

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