A severe staff shortage in Fort Wayne Community Schools' transportation department is prompting a temporary shift to remote learning for all students beginning today.
The problem isn't a lack of bus drivers, district spokeswoman Krista Stockman said Monday. Rather, she said, it's a matter of too many office employees absent due to coronavirus illness or quarantine. She couldn't immediately quantify the shortage but said it affects most of the office staff.
“We don't have enough staff members in routing and dispatching to safely operate,” Stockman said by email.
FWCS buses transport more than 14,000 students each day, transportation Director Frank Jackson told the school board last month. This adds up to more than 6,000 daily stops along more than 1,000 routes, he said.
Elementary and middle school students brought their electronic devices home Monday for remote learning today, Wednesday and Monday. The district's Thanksgiving break is Thursday and Friday.
Remote instruction for high schoolers began Monday and is expected to last through Dec. 4. That shift, which was announced last week, also was prompted by employee illnesses and quarantines.
“In order to keep schools open,” Stockman said, “we need everyone in the community to wear masks, follow social distancing guidelines and stay home when they feel ill.”
Families may pick up students' breakfasts and lunches for remote learning days from 5 to 6 p.m. today at the high schools. Families who were already participating in remote learning should go to their assigned school, and the others may go to whichever school is most convenient, Stockman said. She noted distribution will be first come, first served.
Although teachers had practice with remote lessons in September, FWCS expects some hiccups during this temporary switch given the format is new for many educators and students, Stockman said.
“The more we do this, the better we'll get, but it will take some time,” she said. “It's important that we are prepared for these sudden changes, however, because winter is coming, and we usually have weather cancellations due to wintry conditions. Going forward, those days will be remote learning days.”
Remote learning expectations for each level – elementary, middle and high school – are available at www.fortwayneschools.org/remote-learning.
FWCS is “relatively confident” elementary and middle school students will be able to return to classrooms Dec. 1 because enough transportation employees are expected to return the previous day, Stockman said.
“We won't know for sure until Monday arrives,” she said of Nov. 30. “That's why we decided to have Monday be a remote for all day.
“If enough staff returns on Monday, we'll be set for Tuesday.”