GREENSBORO — Some Guilford County high school students turned to a plan B — or C — to get to and from school on Monday.
Friends Kiamarie Steger and Katrina Brown buddied-up to make the trip to Grimsley High School via city bus for the first time on Monday, after Guilford County Schools canceled their school bus route. The district has temporarily canceled most school bus service to eight high schools amid a driver shortage made worse by a surge in COVID-19 cases because of the omicron variant.
The two sophomores missed their first bus and then spent half an hour in the cold waiting for the next bus to pick them up. They successfully transferred buses at Greensboro’s downtown depot, but by the time they arrived at Grimsley, they were a couple hours late.
“I didn’t want to do all this,” Steger said. “It’s too much.”
Like many other districts, Guilford County Schools has had an ongoing shortage of school bus drivers. By last Friday, the district also felt the additional strain of having 76 drivers at home with COVID-19.
That situation led Superintendent Sharon Contreras to first delay some school start times on Friday and then to announce temporary cuts to some of the district’s school bus routes.
The busing changes do not affect elementary or middle school students, high school students whose schools are outside of city boundaries and don’t have access to public transportation, high school students with disabilities who receive special transportation, or magnet school students.
For the next two weeks, normal bus service is suspended for these high schools: Smith, Grimsley, Dudley, Page, The Academy at Smith, Andrews, High Point Central and Kearns Academy.
All are located in either Greensboro or High Point. The list of schools, sent out by the district on Saturday, is shorter than what Contreras first shared during a news conference on Friday. That original list included some additional small high schools in Greensboro and High Point.
The route cuts left some families and students in Greensboro mulling their options.
Some opted for the shuttle buses offered by Smith, Grimsley, Dudley and Page. These buses, driven by school coaches and other staff members with commercial driver’s licenses, provided service to some apartments and housing complexes that have the most bus riders.
Others considered the merits of city buses, walking or finding a ride.
Parent Kristin Cassell said she first checked out the possibility of her 15-year-old son taking a city bus, but decided against it after realizing it would take about an hour-and-a-half each way and included having to transfer buses.
Instead, she said, her family was able to piece together a series of rides for this week with other school friends. She’s grateful that was possible for them.
“It is a good reminder that community is important and we can help each other,” she said.
Melvin Marshall, principal of Smith High School, showed up to Greensboro’s bus depot Monday morning with his travel coffee mug.
He said the district had asked schools to each send a representative to the depot so students could see a familiar face to welcome or reassure them.
“This is going to be a new experience for some,” he said.
Among the four students interviewed by the News & Record who rode the city buses Monday morning, all had different levels of comfort and experience with riding municipal buses. None of them preferred it to the regular school bus.
“Strangers get on, and you don’t know what their intentions are,” Brown said of the city bus.
She and Steger said they are angry that they and other students have to resort to city buses, but also grateful for all the opportunities they’ve had the in past to get picked up by a school bus driver and taken to school.