Suffolk County school district hopes to finds solution to bus shortage crisis

HUNTINGTON, Long Island (WABC) -- A school district in Suffolk County is working to resolve a bus shortage crisis after their school bus company canceled their contract.

Huntington Union Free School District was sent scrambling on Wednesday after the Huntington Coach Company abruptly canceled their contract.

Officials and school district leaders worked Wednesday to find other means of transportation for their students within the district.

New York Senator James Gaughran said that emergency bus service would be implemented Thursday in Huntington to ensure that "there is no interruption in service for any students Thursday or Friday," while also imploring the contracted bus company to resume full service.

"I've been working around the clock with the Governor's Office to find a solution and I'm thrilled that the governor has secured emergency assistance to ensure there is no interruption in service for any students Thursday or Friday," Gaughran said. "I implore Huntington Coach to fulfill their contract and resume full service immediately."

However, School District Superintendent Jim Polansky says that the delayed schedule "cannot be altered at this point," but insisted that the district is still working towards a "prompt resolution."

The school district only received a 36-hour notice saying that dozens of routes would no longer be covered by the contracted school bus company.

The bus company announced they were dropping 42 morning routes and 34 afternoon routes on Thursday, and then on Friday, October 8, the company would abandon all existing contracts.

The company provides busing for nearly 5,000 students to the district's eight schools as well as providing transport to 32 private and parochial and 25 special needs schools on Long Island as required by law. The district currently contracts to 53 large buses and 87 vans.

But why end the contract? The company officials are blaming this on the national driver shortage and furthermore say new COVID testing and vaccination requirements are causing drivers to walk off the job rather than comply.

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The shortage only impacts the Huntington Union Free School District, not neighboring districts.

Officials and school district leaders worked Wednesday to find other means of transportation. Part of that effort involved assistance from New York Governor Kathy Hochul.

"Governor Hochul's top priority is keeping children in school. Our office has reached out to the district and stakeholders to get an assessment of the situation and to determine options," said Hazel Crampton-Hays, press secretary for the New York Governor Kathy Hochul.

The district is all in-person learning and don't want to revert back to remote learning.

Earlier in the afternoon, the school superintendent said the district was actively pursuing alternatives to the shortage.

"We are actively pursuing what alternatives exists -- there are limits because of the shortage that is a national phenomenon, but our current transportation provider has made arrangements to do some doubling back to make sure our children get to school. All the routes that are listed but many are going to be delayed on both a.m. and p.m.," Polansky said.

School leaders are also looking into legal action against the Huntington Coach Bus Company for abruptly dropping the service, but their immediate focus is to continue to provide students transportation to and from school, so learning is not disrupted.

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