As the school year began Monday, Anne Arundel County Public Schools is wrestling with a shortage of teachers, bus drivers, food service workers, custodians and more, as are other districts in the state and nation.
In July, the system that serves more than 84,000 children reported 418 vacant classroom teaching positions. That number has dropped to 216 as of Aug. 29, schools spokesman Bob Mosier said.
“It was a really good day. It wasn’t without its hiccups. We knew it wouldn’t be. But it was a really good day,” Mosier said. “Students ... were thrilled to be back in school in a way that they remember as normal.”
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The COVID-19 pandemic has forced schools to adjust operations during the three previous academic years. This year is starting with no restrictions.
The system is still experiencing the same shortage of bus drivers that left thousands of students without transportation last year, something districts around the country are experiencing. Contractors reported routes with no service on a webpage that updates every three minutes, which can be found at www.aacps.org/buses.
Monday morning the list of routes with no drivers grew from 36 reported by 7 a.m. to 39 by 8:30 a.m. Monday afternoon there were 47 routes listed without a driver. Mosier said about a dozen routes without service were absent from the list this morning, due to confusion that occurred because of a second list that has now been removed from the site.
AACPS has changed its start times this academic year, moving the morning bell to 8:30 a.m. at high schools, 8 a.m. for most elementary schools and 9:15 a.m. for middle schools. The change allows older students to get more sleep, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Elementary start times were moved earlier; the system has cited a study that found the change doesn’t affect younger students’ sleepiness.
The system updated bus routes to improve efficiency and facilitate the start time shift. Some students will need to walk farther to the bus stop than they have in years past.
Monday morning along Calvert Street in Annapolis, Stacey Smith, 42, and her daughter Autumn, 9, were waiting for the bus to take Autumn to Annapolis Elementary for the first day of school.
“Our bus stop is the same place with a new time,” said Smith. “I used to rely on my eldest to get my youngest from the bus. Now, Autumn gets out earlier. I work in Baltimore so leaving work at 1:15 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. is going to be tough, but it’s the way it has to be right now.”
The school board has said later start times for high school and middle school students will improve their physical and mental well-being. While the benefits for the students may be unquantifiable there may be growing pains as the community adapts to the change.
Brittany Green was waiting for bus 403 with at least 10 others at the corner of West Washington and Town Pines Court in Annapolis. Green along with several other parents are frustrated with the way the new bus schedule has been presented and are worried they will miss too much work in order to get their kids to and from school.
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“My son goes to the Children’s Guild in Brooklyn, and I wasn’t told until last night that the bus wouldn’t be able to pick him up today,” Green said. “They said they would reimburse me for driving but I had to call out this morning to take him, so I bet they don’t reimburse that.”
Mosier said the system has to provide transportation or an alternative to students who have individualized education plans that include transportation. One such alternative is reimbursing parents for providing transportation.
Schools also are working with communities to set up alternatives such as carpools, Mosier said.
Because of the route changes, many parents are also trying to introduce themselves to their child’s new bus driver. While some guardians expressed frustration with the schedule changes, others like Brenda Diaz are fine with the shift in schedule.
“I work from home, so I have no problem getting Riley from the stop a little earlier,” said Diaz about retrieving her fifth grade granddaughter.
The system also recently welcomed a new superintendent of schools, Mark Bedell earlier this month. Bedell visited Marley Elementary School in Glen Burnie on Monday.