Cancellations due to staff shortages not uncommon this year in Northeast Tennessee schools, leaders say

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CARTER COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Sunday night, district leaders of Carter County Schools had to make the tough call of canceling classes due to both shortages of bus drivers and substitute teachers.

Schools throughout the district were shut down Monday as school leaders made the necessary arrangements in order to return students and staff to campus as regularly scheduled on Tuesday.

Carter County Director of Schools, Tracy McAbee said the absences were not all due to COVID.

“It was a mixture of things that hit all at once that got people out,” said McAbee. He said while some cases were positive and others were quarantining, staff was also out due to death in their families and other illnesses not related to COVID-19.

McAbee stated around seven bus routes were impacted, leading to the decision to cancel classes on Monday. While students stayed home, staff in the district office got to work.

“We have academic coaches, we have some supervisors here in the central office that are going to go out and help cover those classes because we don’t have enough subs and that kind of thing,” said McAbee. “We’re going to try to recruit some coaches and/or teachers who already have their CDL licenses and drive buses but are not driving routes. Since it’s an emergency situation we’re going to see if they can help out either a morning or afternoon route.”

He said he fully anticipates classes to return on Tuesday. McAbee told News Channel 11 the arrangements will likely stay in place through the end of the week, unless people return sooner, which he hopes is the case.

While the district worked quickly to rearrange and resume classes, McAbee said he doubts this will be the last time.

“We’re in the second year of a global pandemic, I don’t not worry about anything. Anything can happen, the worry is there, and I’m not sure about what might happen next. All you can do is plan and do the best you can,” McAbee said.

Carter County isn’t the only one dealing with shortages; officials with Washington County Schools are also having to make cancellations from time to time, but on a much smaller scale.

“On Friday, we had to cancel a route at one of our high schools, and Monday afternoon, one of our elementary schools we had to cancel the morning route, but we do have the afternoon route covered,” said Washington Co. TN Schools Chief Operations Officer, Jarrod Adams.

Adams said, for the most part, they’ve been well-off in terms of covering routes and that in his opinion, they have the best team in Northeast Tennessee driving their routes.

“Right now, we have every route covered if everybody is able to come to work, but we could use 5 or 6 more drivers to help cut down on the number of drivers who are actually driving two routes in a day,” said Adams.

He said shortages were a problem prior to COVID, but the virus does complicate things. On the substitute teacher front, the district recently trained 26 people and is awaiting the return of drug screening and background checks.

Johnson City Schools are also feeling the impact of driver shortages.

Johnson City Transit officials sent the following statement to News Channel 11:

“We are typically down 8 or more drivers and often run double or triple routes. When staffing levels are that low and even one driver gets sick or has to take time off, it presents great challenges.”

Johnson City Transit

As a result of this, Johnson City canceled one afternoon bus route Monday, as well as Tuesday and Wednesday. Those impacted have been notified by the school system.

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