Dozens of Nassau BOCES special education students did not get a ride on their first day back to school Tuesday and others had long delays due to a bus driver shortage, officials and parents said.
“I’m very concerned,” said Robert Dillon, district superintendent for Nassau BOCES. “We want to make this go away as soon as possible. I need kids in school.”
Dillon said First Student, a private bus company contracted to transport Nassau BOCES students, told his office Friday that it didn’t have enough drivers.
Over the weekend, Dillon's office worked to reduce the number of affected students from 79 to 74, ranging in grades from elementary to high school.
The affected students attend Seaman Neck Middle School in Seaford, Robert Williams School in Jericho, Willet Avenue School in Hicksville, Rosemary Kennedy School in Wantagh, and Center for Community Adjustment, also in Wantagh.
Angela Marshall, spokeswoman for Nassau BOCES, said BOCES is working on consolidating routes to place more students on buses. The district needs eight more drivers to cover all of its routes.
"We are pleading with people with commercial driver’s license ... to come forward," she said.
First Student transports schoolchildren in the United States and Canada. Its U.S. headquarters is in Cincinnati. Company spokesperson Jay Brock said First Student is working with the district to "identify route efficiencies.”
“Today being the first day back to school, we understand the stress that this puts on students and parents,” Brock wrote in an email Tuesday.
BOCES is a regional education agency that provides local school districts with specialized services such as occupational training, special education and administrative support.
Nassau BOCES, along with its vendor, transports about 1,000 of its 1,600 special education students. The rest of the students are transported through their home districts.
Industry experts and drivers said there has been a persistent labor shortage that started before the spring of 2020. The pandemic, however, made the shortfall much worse. Last September, parents across the Island reported long bus delays, and in some instances, no-shows.
The yellow bus did come for Kyle Buttner on the rainy Tuesday morning, but it was more than an hour late.
Buttner, 18, lives in Levittown and is a senior at Iris Wolfson High School, a BOCES school in Greenvale. His mother, Karen Buttner, said she was about to get in the car to drive him when the bus came. During the hourlong wait, she called five times to find out whether the bus was coming.
“The lines were so busy this morning calling over there so I knew they must be having a lot of problems,” she said. “It's the not knowing that drives you nuts, you know? You want to know, 'Do I have to take him or don't I have to take him?'”
CLARIFICATION: Due to incomplete information, an earlier version of this story reported that 64 Nassau BOCES students were affected by the bus driver shortage.