Appoquinimink School District may have to transition its high schools to virtual-only instruction, but not because of COVID-19.
In an email sent to parents Friday, Middletown High School principal Amanda Conley said that First Student Busing, who the district contracts for student transportation services, may be facing an employee strike.
“We recently received notice that the drivers from one of our contracted transportation companies, First Student, are threatening to go on strike against the company,” Conley wrote. “If that happens, we will not have enough buses to transport all students to school.”
She said that if drivers do go on strike, the district would be forced to transition its high schools to virtual instruction until the drivers come back to work.
Conley advised parents that teachers are prepared to make the transition. She emphasized that her email is only a precaution and she hopes the strike doesn’t happen “for the sake of our students and our school.”
District officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.
First Student faced an employee strike in Rhode Island near the end of October after drivers complained of unsatisfactory pay and benefits.
That strike ended last Friday after union leaders and First Student struck a deal including “generous pay raises … increased 401(k) contributions, and other benefit improvements for our valued, hardworking Warwick school bus drivers,” according to WPRI Providence.
In Delaware, bus drivers have long complained of poor working conditions, low pay and scant benefits, but school districts are limited from offering contractors better deals because the state dictates the rate school bus contractors can be paid.
Delaware is also in the midst of a school bus driver shortage so extreme that the state has increased bus driver compensation and created additional financial incentives, such as double tier and triple tier allowances to more accurately compensate drivers that service more than one route.
EastSide Charter School in Wilmington has even begun paying parents $700 per student to transport their children to and from school.
Christina Dietrich, who has one student in an Appoquinimink School District high school, said a transition back to virtual learning would be “unconscionable” for her and her family.
“The transition to virtual school would have been unthinkable before the COVID pandemic and we need to try to find other solutions,” Dietrich said. “Maybe community-based solutions. Are there churches? Are there families who are willing to carpool?”
She said transitioning to virtual learning cannot be the only answer, and that any transition would likely end up lasting longer than a few days because of the existing school bus driver shortage.
“The first resort cannot be to just close down the schools,” she said.
This is a breaking story. Check back later for updates.
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