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New bus contingency plan created for Sedalia 200

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For the first time in Sedalia School District 200 history, school was canceled last Friday due to a lack of bus drivers. Sedalia 200 and First Student have created a new contingency plan if a similar situation happens again. 

At 5 a.m. Friday, Jan. 7, Sedalia 200 alerted all parents that school was canceled for the day because 13 of 29 drivers were ill. Out of the 13 drivers absent, only one was a COVID-19 close contact; the rest had bronchitis, influenza or were out for scheduled surgeries. 

First Student, a business that contracts with Sedalia 200 to provide bus transportation, follows federal mask and quarantine guidelines for COVID-19. Students by federal law have to wear masks on buses, while masks are optional in Sedalia 200 buildings. 

Sedalia 200 Superintendent Steve Triplett told the Democrat this week that eight school routes are difficult to handle anyway, but with 13 drivers gone, the district had no choice but to cancel school Jan. 7. 

“With this new plan, we will just have community pick-up stops at various points throughout town that are basically on a 2-mile radius from the schools,” Triplett said. 

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education requires schools to provide busing for any student who lives 3.5 miles from school. Triplett said Sedalia 200 needed a contingency plan so some type of district-offered transportation is available and classes can occur.

First Student transports around 2,500 to 3,000 students a day for Sedalia 200. 

“This plan is not set up to transport that many kids. We are looking to transport those kids who live 2 miles and more from their given school and just have no other way to get to school,” Triplett added. “Whenever we can’t run the regular routes, we are going to ask parents to try and find a way to get their child to school safely that day and home without having to utilize bus services.”

The number of students who attend a particular school will contribute to the number of pick-up locations in the plan. 

“The thought is if you’re within 2 miles of the school, we would ask if you can do everything you can to make your own way to school,” Triplett said. 

Sedalia 200 released the plan Sunday. Parents can find the plan on sedalia200.org or with the online version of this article on sedaliademocrat.com.

The plan, which would accommodate up to eight driving staff absences, states:

“This plan consolidates routes to allow First Student to transport students using fewer drivers/buses. Families should note that all of these community bus stops are different from standard daily bus stops; students may need to walk farther to be picked up/dropped off or families may need to drive their student to their designated stop. It also provides transportation for students who live 2 miles or more from their school; regular daily bus service picks up students who live more than 1 mile from their school.

“Families whose students are too young to be dropped off without supervision (kindergarten and first grade) or who choose not to have their student walk home from the emergency plan bus stop should be at the designated stop at the time that their school dismisses. This will help buses get all students dropped off in a timely manner, as buses will be running multiple routes.”

While the plan is in effect, students who do not ride a bus on a morning route are not eligible to ride a bus home and will need their own transportation.

The buses’ number will be displayed in the bus's front window, so parents should note their student’s pickup and drop-off location, pickup time, and bus number.

Students with special needs who qualify for transportation as a related service will continue to ride their bus as usual. Loftus Early Childhood Center students are also not affected by the changes in this plan.

First Student Sedalia Location Manager Connie Miller said that in the 44 years she has worked at First Student, she has never seen something like this happen. 

Miller, who helped develop the plan, said she tried to set the community pick-up locations so students don’t have to cross major roads. Families can pick the stop closest to their home or most convenient for them.

“I tried to center them far enough away from each other but yet close enough so that the children in town could walk, but a parent would probably have to take them because they’re over the 2 miles from school and centralized from different areas that from where the buses are,” Miller said. 

Miller explained what would happen if more students were at a community pick-up than fit on a bus. 

“I have a couple of standbys out there just in case of that…” Triplett said. “Once a driver starts to get half full, they will call into base and say I’m getting there and there will be another bus that will go out there.”

The first bus won’t leave students at a stop by themselves, so the driver will wait for the next bus to show up. If the weather is bad, the students waiting for the next bus will stand in the first one to avoid the weather.

Triplett and Miller said the hope is that the district and First Student never have to put this contingency plan into action, but it is available if a situation were to happen. 

Nationwide, First Student has been short drivers for the last five years and especially during the pandemic. To apply for a driving position, visit apply.firstgroupcareers.com. 

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