NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. — Starting Monday, November 8, high school students in the Niagara Falls City School District will be dismissed 30 minutes early as part of plan to help alleviate bussing issues caused by a bus driver shortage.
District officials are shaving three minutes off each class period, and the students will now be let out of school at 2:30 p.m. instead of 3 p.m. so bus drivers can begin their after school routes.
Superintendent Mark Laurrie said the district needs about 60 drivers in order to compete all bus routes in a timely manner. Right now, they have fewer than 40, despite the bus company's attempt to recruit more. As a result, some high school students are getting home more than 90 minutes after the school day ends.
"It's not fair to students, and it's not good for safety when we are transporting many students home at 4:30 p.m., 90 full minutes after their school day has ended. It's been a recipe for impatience and possible safety concerns," said Laurrie.
Laurrie said the district has been trying different things to try and tackle the problem, like different bus combinations and drivers doing double routes, but those things haven't been working.
"We have struggled mightily with bus drivers since the beginning of the year, and that situation has not improved," said Laurrie. "It really impacts us greatly at the end of the school day when our high school and elementary school students both dismiss at the same time."
Eight elementary schools and 2,000 high school students were all previously dismissed at the same time, causing backup in after-school transportation.
"The high school students from now until the remainder of the school year will leave at 2:30 p.m. Those buses will then have 20 minutes to do their run, which we've measured out, then be at the elementary school by 3:00 p.m. and transport the elementary students home by the normal time," said Laurrie.
Bussing issues are less of a problem in the morning because elementary, middle, and high school students have staggered start times.
Laurrie said the trickle-down effect of the bus driver shortage goes beyond students getting home late.
"We have had to call employers and say it's not the fault of the student that they are late for their job. It's that we have not been able to provide transportation to get them home at a reasonable time," said Laurrie.
Laurrie said recent fights at the high school are blamed in part on students lingering on school grounds for too long after dismissal while they wait for their bus home.
"Giving up three minutes per class period is not ideal instructionally," Laurrie said. "We have worked with the teachers and the teachers union on this issue. I don't like to give up any minutes of instructional time, but I think safety, order, getting kids home at a reasonable time is much worth it."
Laurrie said the shortened school day for high school students will be in place for the remainder of the school year. He and other school leaders, including the teachers union, are already discussing plans for the 2022-2023 school year because Laurrie believes the bus driver shortage isn't going away any time soon.
"We believe this is temporary. Temporary just happens to be the last 30 weeks of school situation, but we do need to negotiate with our unions who are willing to do that. [We are discussing] different hours, [and need to] publicize that to parents. Parents make their child care and work schedule around school time," Laurrie said.
He said the goal is to add the 30 minutes of instructional time back to the high schoolers' day. One possibility for next school year is to have elementary school students start their day earlier, but no final decision has been made.