School buses for Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) elementary schools were out of service from Monday, October 18 to Thursday, October 21, due to bus drivers being exposed to COVID-19.
Roughly one third of elementary school students take the bus, according to the BUSD website, with that number standing at 1,400 out of the 4,040 elementary-aged students.
Eleven transportation workers were reported to have been exposed to someone with COVID-19. Due to this, a quarantine was mandated for the drivers, and the buses had to be shut down.
BUSD staff are not required to be vaccinated but must submit to weekly testing if not. However, the problem here wasn’t only with the bus drivers having to quarantine. Those who work behind the scenes, creating the bus routes, and those who are the substitutes for the bus drivers, had to quarantine as well. Despite the lack of school buses, students still got to school on time with the help of many parents.
“What we’ve seen so far is only a very small change in attendance based on Monday’s attendance versus the average attendance last week,” said Trish McDermott, the BUSD information officer. “We’ve definitely heard stories of [the] Berkeley school community stepping up, carpooling, and arranging other opportunities to get students who don’t have transportation to school,” McDermott said.
Renne Harris, a teacher at John Muir Elementary School, helped to organize carpools. When the news broke out, parents who had work or no means of transportation rushed to find a way to get their students to school.
“I reached out to families and made sure that they had gotten the message that the buses were not going to be working Monday through Thursday,” Harris said. “A few families let us know that it was not possible for them to bring their kids to school,” she added.
Harris also said that she usually transports five students to school.
Athina Larson, a fourth grade teacher at John Muir, said by email that her students have largely not been affected by the buses shutting down.
Larson did say, however, that one of her students was now being driven by her mother. The student said to Larson that she liked being with her friends on the bus but enjoyed spending time with her mother going and coming to school.
AC Transit also worked with the district to help students get to school by supplying comprehensive route finders to families. However, for some families, carpooling was easier, and many were thankful for help from the community.
“We appreciate our community,” McDermott said. “We see them stepping up time and time again throughout this pandemic and what we saw [on Monday] is exactly the same thing … the school communities finding solutions to the challenges posed by the pandemic,” she said.
Harris doesn’t think that this sort of challenge came as a surprise.
“We live in a time where we should expect things like this to happen, even though they are very difficult and it requires us to have flexibility and empathy and to work together as a community,” Harris said. “I wonder how it [came] to happen, but [at] this point, as most educators feel, problems are coming our way right now and … we have to take them and then figure out solutions,” Harris concluded.
On Friday, October 21, school buses opened again, and students were able to once again ride the buses to school.