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Hutto ISD canceling bus routes due to COVID-related staffing shortages

Leander ISD and Lake Travis ISD have also been dealing with transportation issues due to staffing shortages.

HUTTO, Texas — Hutto ISD officials said Sunday that the district would be canceling regular bus routes until further notice, starting on Monday, Jan. 10.

In a letter addressed to students and parents posted online Sunday, Hutto ISD Superintendent Celina Estrada Thomas said the district had lost more transportation staff over the weekend due to COVID-19. More than a dozen of the district's 62 drivers are out sick with COVID-19, on top of a staffing shortage that already existed, according to data provided by Hutto ISD.

The district has 3,987 students who rely on the regular bus routes. Parents are advised to plan for bus service to be suspended at least through the week, district leaders said Monday.

"We really just ran out of the magic dust that we've been able to operate for the last 17 months," said Henry Gideon, the assistant superintendent for operations. "It became a point where we could not safely run what we call regular ed, regular home-to-school routes."

Specialized routes are set to continue operating this week. Transportation for special needs students – including McKinney-Vento — will still continue, district officials said. 

Here are other transportation adjustments, per Hutto ISD: 

  • Shuttle buses during the day for Ninth Grade Center (NGC) students, students who attend East Williamson County Higher Education Center (EWCHEC) programs, and students affiliated with WORKS programs will continue to run.
  • After-school shuttles and tutorial shuttles will be canceled.

According to the Sunday announcement, tardies will be waived as needed for those who arrive late due to transportation changes. Cafeteria staff will also be on standby to serve grab-and-go breakfasts for those students.

"We're going to work with the parents as best as we can," Gideon said. "But there's no question that we put a hardship on families. No question whatsoever. But we believe keeping our schools open, keeping that in-person instruction is the most important thing we can do."

The district also asks parents and students to be patient and drive carefully due to an expected increase in vehicular traffic at Hutto ISD campuses amid the canceled transportation. They also warn drivers to be aware of more students riding their bikes or walking to school. 

The superintendent closed Sunday's letter by asking students and staff to wear masks in efforts to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.

Originally, a letter posted on Friday said the district would be "discontinuing some bus routes" and were "adjusting others to accommodate staffing shortages." In an update on Sunday, the district said "all regular bus routes" would be canceled. To read the full announcement, visit the Hutto ISD website here.

On Monday morning, Leander ISD announced that its bus routes would be delayed due to staffing shortages within its transportation department. Meanwhile, Austin ISD told KVUE that it has been able to cover every bus route, having to depend on backup drivers for some.

A spokesperson for Leander ISD said the route delays could continue as staffing challenges persist, but the focus remains on getting kids safely to and from school.

At Lake Travis ISD, up to three bus routes per day have had to be suspended since last week due to driver illness, a spokesperson told KVUE. The district is monitoring it day by day.

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