Dozens of public school buses were delayed on the first day of classes Thursday after a slew of resignations over concerns related to the pandemic.
According to company Golden Arrow, the majority of 106 employees who quit in recent weeks cited COVID-19 concerns and worry for either their own health or that of their family members.
A spokesperson told CTV News Edmonton the company has gone from getting five or six job applications daily, to one.
A shortage has also been noted by Cunningham Transportation.
"They don't want to come back to work until they feel that it's safe for them," general manager Laura Doroshenko told CTV News Edmonton. "It's daily. We have drivers calling in and saying, 'Mmmm, don't know if I can come in. I feel unsafe.'"
"It's been a hectic week, just trying to cover for the drivers that told us last week that they weren't coming back."
Edmonton Public Schools warned families on Wednesday that carriers were “experiencing last-minute shifts in the availability of drivers,” but working to minimize the delays as much as possible.
The families of about 70 per cent of EPSB students who returned to in-person classes on Thursday were asked to drive kids in if possible.
Our bus carriers have told us there will be yellow bus delays for #EPSB students tomorrow morning (Thursday, Sept. 3). Families are encouraged to make other arrangements to get children to and from school. See SchoolZone for more information or visit https://t.co/EbB56BrLNl pic.twitter.com/xBziRuLqJK— EPSB (@EPSBNews) September 2, 2020
On Thursday, the first day back in schools for public students, some buses were delayed by as much as an hour.
One parent, Randy, who drove to school his kids and a neighbour's, said many in the community are feeling the same way: "We've ben able to help them out, thank God, but I know they're pretty frustrated along with a lot of the other parents."
EPSB's manager of student transportation reccomended families use the 'Where's My Bus' feature in SchoolZone for bus updates.
"We're working with our carriers to minimize delays as much as possible, and thank families for their understanding and patience," Geoff Holmes said.
Cunningham Transportation said it's spending more this year "than ever before" on regular disinfectant fogging, spare masks, hand sanitizer and the like in between routes.
Doroshenko, who took over the business from family, said the season has been unlike any other.
"I've been here for most of my life. I've never seen it like this."
As provincial training takes two weeks, the delays could continue for a while until driver availability improves.
Cunningham is offering a $300 bonus to new drivers who are with the company in one year.
Golden Arrow's response has been to double its recruitment spending, but said other solutions -- like consolidated bus routes -- may be needed.
That company told CTV News Edmonton it didn't see the same amount of resignation outside urban centres where there are fewer or no COVID-19 cases.
'KEEP THEM HOME,' EPSB TELLS PARENTS OF SYMPTOMATIC CHILDREN
The Thursday bus delays were the latest development schools, and their staff and administration, were handling in the midst of a pandemic guaranteed to cause other hiccups.
- READ MORE: Edmonton Public Schools to finalize teacher assignments 2 days before classes start
- READ MORE: 'Rite of passage': Edmonton Catholic's first day of school unlike any other in midst of pandemic
Speaking outside LaPerle School in west Edmonton minutes before the first elementary students would arrive, public board chair Trisha Estabrooks told CTV News Edmonton the first day of classes had brought “mixed emotions” for many.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty heading back to school. This school year will be like no other that students have experienced, so I’m sure there’s a mix of excitement and also that first day jitters.”
The same is true for parents, she added.
“Parents need to keep in mind not just today, but every day they send their kid out the door, is how is your child feeling? Are they exhibiting any symptoms of COVID-19? If they are, you need to keep them home. It’s no longer acceptable to send your child to school with a runny nose or a bit of a cough,” she said.
“There’s lots of questions – we get that. And the resources are there to support parents with those questions.”
A day earlier, she commended the province for leaving school boards with the task of spending millions of dollars in support funding from Ottawa.
In total, EPSB will receive roughly $37 million.
- READ MORE: Federal return-to-school funds will be given to schools: LaGrange
- READ MORE: Nearly one-third of Edmonton families opt for online learning: EPSB
Another $12 million has been set aside to help Alberta schools provide online learning.
EPSB has some 30,000 students who’ve elected to learn from home.
With files from CTV News Edmonton's Nahreman Issa