KAPA‘A — On Monday, Kapa‘a Middle and Kapa‘a High School parents were notified that beginning on Tuesday, three bus routes would be suspended, affecting 155 students.
Bus routes ZR06A and ZR06B service Kapa‘a Middle School and ZR09 services Kapa‘a High School. The two drivers on these routes have chosen not to drive due to a new state mandate that requires government contractors to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or test weekly, according to state Department of Education communications specialist Derek Inoshita. The order went into effect on Sept. 13.
Akita Enterprises, which subcontracts these routes in Kapa‘a, deferred questions to HIDOE.
The order aligns with President Joe Biden’s July 29 action requiring every federal government onsite contractor to attest to vaccination or comply with a weekly or twice weekly testing requirement.
KMS Principal Julia Sanderi notified parents Monday afternoon.
“The driver shortage is the result of a combination of factors including an overall national and local driver shortage and staffing gaps caused by drivers needing to isolate or quarantine due to exposure to COVID-19,” Sanderi said in a letter.
“In order to fulfill our duty to provide reasonable supervision of students in our care, the department has imposed a requirement that all contracted bus drivers be tested weekly for COVID-19 or provide full vaccination as part of our commitment to providing a safe school environment for students.”
The driver shortage is nationwide. To date, eight DOE subcontracted drivers have turned in resignations statewide.
‘This issue is not specific to Hawai‘i, nor is it specific to student transportation,” the DOE said in a statement. “Across the U.S., there are not enough young qualified drivers to replace the retiring-driver population, causing a year-over-year increase in shortages. Bus contractors are doing everything they can to get back to normal service levels.”
Last week, DOE Interim Superintendent Keith Hayashi briefed lawmakers on the driver shortage that at the time was primarily affecting Maui, O‘ahu and Hawai‘i Island.
“If I get a driver that calls in sick tomorrow, it’s so tight, the bus company doesn’t have the capacity to flip a driver in because there’s no bench,” he said.
The DOE is monitoring drivers in a training program but, admittedly, there are no quick fixes to get more drivers on routes.
“It’s a lean workforce,” said Hayashi. “And the standards for student transport driver are quite high.”
Families who qualify and can provide their own transportation are eligible for mileage reimbursement, and for families who do not qualify, there is a form on the DOE website to request a refund for transportation services that were paid for in advance. City bus passes are provided for students on islands with city bus infrastructure.
Coordinating carpooling efforts has been left up to families.
“We were a little cautious about carpooling, because (that) could present an opportunity for COVID spread. So, we left that decision up to the parents,” said Hayashi.
Laurel Smith, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.