'Expect Delays': At Some DFW Schools, the Wheels on the Bus Might Be Going Nowhere Fast

School buses are running late in North Texas school districts, possibly due to driver shortages
School buses are running late in North Texas school districts, possibly due to driver shortages Photo by Megan Lee on Unsplash
At some school districts around Dallas/Fort Worth, the new academic year got off to a slow start, with a shortage of drivers leading to long bus delays for many students.

Just take a look at Garland ISD's Twitter for transportation updates over the last week. "Please be patient and expect delays," one post after another reads. Some warn parents of up to two-hour delays.

By email, Shelley Garrett, the district's assistant superintendent of safety and operations, explained that the bus driver shortage has created "open routes that must be filled by others, and our great team has come together to make sure the students get to and from school in a safe manner, albeit delayed."

Garrett said the district started the school year last week with a shortage of some 40 drivers, and to make matters worse, more than 20 were currently out sick as of Wednesday morning.

Hoping to hire more bus drivers, Garland ISD is offering "an incentive of $500 if someone would like to apply to be a bus driver or monitor," Garrett added.

But it's not happening only in Garland. Irving ISD, Forney ISD and Plano ISD, among others, have also warned parents and guardians of significant bus delays since students returned to classes.

“Plano ISD could experience significant delays across several morning and afternoon bus routes this week,” the district said in a statement on its website last week.

“Plano ISD is encouraging parents to weigh all options ahead of the first day of school, including driving your student to school. If your child’s bus is ever running late, please know that it is on the way.”

Alejandro Mejia, Irving ISD's director of transportation, didn't respond to the Observer's request for comment. Earlier this week, though, he told WFAA that his district had filled only 70% of the school bus driver positions it needed.

"I'm sorry that we're in this situation," Mejia said. "Just know we're trying our best to get out of it as soon as we can."

Bus drivers are required to have a commercial driver license, or CDL. This allows a holder to operate large commercial vehicles and buses on public roadways, and bus driver applicants must pass a test to get one.

Earlier this year, the Texas Department of Public Safety announced a waiver for select CDLs to assist with school bus driver shortages. The waiver excluded the engine compartment section of the pre-trip vehicle inspection skills test for those seeking the school-bus and passenger endorsements. Applicants who complete this program and testing are restricted to intrastate operation of a school bus only.

"The school bus waiver is still in effect," DPS spokesperson Ericka Miller told the Observer by email. "The department updates that page anytime a waiver is added, removed or extended by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, so it is the best place to stay up to date on any changes."

It isn't just bus drivers, either. Schools around North Texas have been struggling with a shortage of teachers for some time, a problem that was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Kate Pezzulli, an editorial fellow for the Observer, is a graduate student at the Mayborn School of Journalism at UNT. Besides storytelling, she likes sailing, working on Jeeps, camping, potting and baking. Voted No. 1 friend in an apocalypse.
Contact: Kate Pezzulli