Visalia Unified impacted by shortage of bus drivers during omicron surge

VISALIA, Calif. (KFSN) -- As the Omicron variant spreads rapidly in Tulare County, schools feel the impact of staff having to quarantine.

Tuesday morning, Visalia Unified School District felt the strain with a shortage of bus drivers.

Administrators took swift action and those with a license to drive a school bus jumped on board.

"They all jumped on buses, they got whatever subs they could get, doubled up on routes," says Visalia Unified Chief Operations Officer Erik Kehrer. "In some cases, even routing as they were in transit."

On average, the district transports over 5,000 kids and has 60 routes daily.

Kehrer says they were honest with parents about their situation all week.

They sent out early text messages warning about possible delays and asking parents not to leave their children by themselves, but most importantly, ensuring that they would all get picked up for school.

"We were transparent and said we are doing the best we can, combining routes and getting folks who can to drive, and I think they appreciated that communication," Kehrer said.

He says the district understands the frustration and conflict these last-minute changes can cause parents and hopes it won't happen for much longer.

"Hopefully, we won't have this message on Monday morning, but it's like everything else -- we will have to wait and see," he said.

On Sunday, they will re-evaluate their staffing situation.

Kehrer says the pandemic has taught them a lot about being prepared and it's why they made things work this week.

"Everyone is tired but the plans we have in place are working and if this would have been sooner, this could have been worse in terms of closures," he said.
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