SCCPSS board discusses COVID-19 concerns, bus driver shortage

Local News

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Schools in the Savannah-Chatham Public School System are preparing to open doors to students in three weeks for in-person instruction five days a week.

Superintendent Dr. Ann Levett called the return a “move forward to school,” as this year will be a transition for students, families and staff.

At Wednesday’s school board meeting, members expressed that COVID-19 remains a concern. There is a potential for school closures based on threat level or outbreaks in schools, according to the board.

COVID-19 data from SCCPSS

The community transmission index is moderately high, as of July 12. Kurt Hetager, Chief of Public Affairs, said this is an area of slight concern that will continue to be monitored.

“As we get ready to open our doors again we do recognize that the trend that we’re seeing, while it is in orange, it does show that it is tracking upward,” Hetager said.

While masks are optional inside schools, they will be required on buses.

“I would suggest to any parent, any staff member to feel very comfortable in wearing a mask,” Levett said. “We will continue to advocate for, promote and strongly encourage people to continue keeping their hands clean.”

Another topic of conversation at Wednesday’s meeting was the on-going bus driver shortage.

The current staffing numbers are at the lowest level over the past three years. About 80 positions need to be filled in order to be fully-staffed, according to data from the school district.

Data from SCCPSS shows the number of bus drivers is at the lowest level over the past three years.

Carlton Carter, a bus driver, spoke at the meeting and took issue with the district’s payroll system.

“Nobody’s upset about the pay. The pay is great right now,” Carter said. “The main issue that we have to solve as of right now is the payroll system itself. We need to move from a 24-week system to a 26-week system.”

The superintendent said the district is “aggressively recruiting and hiring” bus drivers. In response to the shortage, the district prioritized ridership based on need.

Approximately 20,500 students are eligible for transportation this coming school year, according to data from the school district. During the 2019-2020 school year, more than 25,500 students rode the bus.

To limit the spread of COVID-19, schools will take a variety of health precautions including:

  • Cleaning high-touch surfaces and ventilation systems
  • Providing PPE and cleaning supplies
  • Sharing information about the vaccine

“It’s really important for us, too, and the school district,” Board Director Joseph Buck said. “The more people that are vaccinated, the more likely we are able to keep having school.”

Foot traffic inside schools will also be limited to help students adjust.

“Principals have specifically asked that we give time to allow students time — students and staff — to re-acclimate to school operations,” Levett said. “Visitors, at least to start with, will be limited to those with business necessary for the operation of the school.”

While many students will be returning to school, nearly one thousand will enroll virtually, the board announced on Wednesday. 

The board will continue to watch COVID-19 numbers and re-visit the operation plan at next month’s meeting. 

If you have questions about the upcoming school year, the district will host a Forward to School Expo at the Savannah Mall on Saturday, July 24 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The event will also include a vaccine clinic.

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