Thousands of students on Long Island will be assured of a ride to school on Friday, after a school district and bus company came to an agreement to resolve a driver crisis and avoid an "interruption of services."
James Polansky, the superintendent of the Huntington Union Free School District in Suffolk County, said in a letter to parents Thursday afternoon that they have "worked assertively to resolve the prominent issue associated with our contracted transportation service." That issue, put simply, was that at least 5,000 families were set to be directly impacted after the district's school bus service provider abruptly canceled 76 bus routes earlier in the week.
In a statement at the time, Huntington Coach Corporation blamed challenges presented by the pandemic and lack of qualified drivers, saying that the "continued lack of qualified applicants and the time needed to get drivers trained, certified and vetted through the New York State and federal background check system have been daunting challenges."
The bus company said that they had been "hiring and training drivers at an unprecedented rate, yet still we have been treading water at best."
Much to parents' relief, the agreement reached between the school district and bus company will ensure that "the terms and conditions associated with all existing contracts" will be honored, Polansky said in the letter. Despite making certain that rides will be provided, there was was bad news in the short-term, however, as bus delays can be expected to continue.
"The route delays experienced today will carry into tomorrow as well, however the company is working to resolve the majority, if not all such delays by the start of next week," Polansky said, adding that the driver shortage is "an ongoing issue and will need to be addressed within the industry and by school districts in general."
Polansky said that the district will communicate with families regarding possible "imminent" delays in the future.
The shortage of bus drivers continues to impact not only schools locally but also those across the country.
A spokeswoman for Gov. Kathy Hochul's office had said Thursday that the Democrat was "working with the district and stakeholders to get an assessment of the situation and to help facilitate solutions."
"Gov. Hochul's top priority is keeping children in school," Hazel Crampton-Hays, her press secretary, said.
Huntington Coach has been operating since 1927. Before the agreement was reached, Polansky expressed his shock and disappointment because the bus provider has been transporting students in the district for over six decades.
"I have to be honest with you, I can't believe this," Polansky said. "This is a company we've been working with as a school district for 62 years. We are right in their backyard. We expected a little bit than less than 36 hours notice."