LEWISTON — A shortage of drivers has forced the Lewiston school district to cancel some student transportation.

One bus and three vans will not run until Tuesday next week because three drivers tested positive for COVID-19 and another is grieving the death of a family member due to COVID-19, Superintendent Jake Langlais said in an interview Monday. If other drivers are not able to work, the district may have to cancel additional runs.

Parents who have students on these rides must coordinate their transportation or notify the school that their child will be learning remotely.

“Efforts have been to blend runs, split three runs with two buses, hiring, expediting licensure, and Hudson (Bus Lines) has had all their office staff driving,” Langlais wrote to the school community Sunday evening. “We just don’t have enough drivers at this time with all the COVID impacts.”

Originally, a second bus run was to be canceled for the week, but the driver, whose COVID-19 test was inconclusive this weekend and then negative Monday, will resume working Tuesday, Langlais said.

Tuesday is the fifth consecutive school day that student transportation has been affected by the driver shortage. Over the five days, four bus and 14 van runs have been canceled. The greatest impact is on students who attend Lewiston High School, Lewiston Middle School, Geiger Elementary School and Connors Elementary School over the next week.


Langlais said the loss of some van drivers has been particularly difficult because they transport students to out-of-district programs as far away as Saco. The district is searching for transportation alternatives, but has not had any success so far.

The cancellations began just a week after Langlais told the School Committee that the district was “on the fringe” of having enough drivers to meet their transportation needs.

“The response from people, at least on my end, has been really positive that we’re keeping schools open instead of having to have the whole school go remote over the transportation,” he said. “We’re really hyperfocused on trying to keep our schools open in person … I think people just understand that, where we’re doing every single thing we can with a tough labor market and the COVID situation.”

Other school districts have canceled bus runs this year due to driver shortages, including the Oxford Hills school district, Wales-based Regional School Unit 4 and Hallowell-based RSU 2. Nearly every school district in Androscoggin, Oxford and Franklin counties is struggling to hire enough drivers to meet their needs.

The Lewiston school district has 29 school driver positions budgeted through Hudson Bus Lines, according to a presentation by Director of Nutrition and Transportation Alisa Roman in September. However, the district has not been able to fill all of these positions. Increased absences caused by COVID-19 has made the shortage more severe and unpredictable.

Langlais said school administrators have given drivers combined and double runs as two methods of addressing the shortage. A double run means drivers drop off one group of students, then turn around to pick up a second group for the same school.

“You might have to walk up the block and wait at a different spot with a different group of kids and get on the bus that’s a different number and that might happen, you know 20 minutes earlier than before,” Langlais said.

Double runs have resulted in one group of students at Connors arriving about 25 minutes later than their peers for the last several weeks, he added.

“Short of trying to figure out these transportation loops, we would be remote, and I think people really want kids in school in person,” he said.

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