Thousands of CPS students — most of them in special education — still without bus services
In all, about 3,800 of the more than 16,000 children who typically ride buses are still without routes.
A few dozen students who missed the first two months of classes because of Chicago Public Schools’ early year busing troubles are expected to get service by the end of this week, officials said Wednesday.
That milestone would mark the bare minimum in fixing the problems families have faced as the district has experienced a massive bus driver shortage, officials said. There remain thousands of other students who have been getting to school by having to rely on alternative transportation methods when they’re entitled, in some cases by federal law, to district buses.
In all, about 3,800 of the more than 16,000 children who typically ride buses are still without service. A little over 2,300 of them are in special education. Kimberly Jones, CPS’ transportation chief, told the Board of Education at its monthly meeting Wednesday that 97% of those children who still don’t have bus routes have been getting to school on their own.
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That remaining 3% represented about 107 kids, 96 of them in special education. Officials found 51 of those students — 50 in special education — were still actively enrolled while the rest either transferred outside of Chicago, withdrew from the district, were being homeschooled or the district lost touch with them.
Thirty-two of those 51 students have been placed on bus routes while the other 19 will get buses by Friday, Jones said.
“It’s frustrating for all of us, it’s frustrating for our parents,” CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said.
“We had to make sure any child that wasn’t attending school, that they were prioritized. As you can see, we’ve taken care of that. It was 3% of our students, and the ones that were still active, they are now routed for service. But of course that’s not enough.”
Mayor Lori Lightfoot at the start of the school year blamed the problems on mass resignations of bus drivers in protest of the city’s vaccine mandate. The bus drivers work for private companies that the district has contracted for bus services. As CPS vendors, they’re also covered by the mandate.
But those resignations only took out 73 bus drivers. CPS already knew at that point that there was an overall shortage of more than 400 drivers.
CPS officials said they see brighter days on the horizon. The district has been using taxis to get some kids to school and recently contracted with New Jersey-based company RideAlong for transportation services that’ll kick in next month, Jones said.
RideAlong provides alternate methods of transportation rather than buses, primarily using passenger vehicles. They also have need-compliant vehicles that can carry students in wheelchairs, a spokeswoman said.
Christine Kennedy, the company’s co-founder and chief operating officer, said RideAlong’s “drivers are vetted, safety-checked employees who put student safety first, meeting all mandates and following strict health and safety protocols. They are looking forward to supporting Chicago families with school transportation services.”
Martinez called the contract with RideAlong a “game changer” because officials are expecting the company to provide 80 drivers by the end of November, and another 200 or so more in December. Martinez acknowledged that was an “ambitious goal.”
“If we can accomplish that, our goal right now would be that all of our diverse learners could be serviced by the time we come back from Christmas break,” he said. “And with that, it’s not all or none. It’s ramping up as we go along.”