Mat-Su

Mat-Su school transportation crisis prompts cancellation of sports buses

Durham School Services

PALMER — School transportation woes continued in Mat-Su as schools informed families that no busing will be available for students involved in high school sports or activities for a month starting Monday.

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District is grappling with issues raised by a new bus provider, Durham School Services, which took over transportation on Tuesday and immediately ran into problems including long delays, missed routes and five students at least briefly “missing” as their families tried unsuccessfully to track them down.

Emails sent out by individual schools cited “the ongoing transportation challenges” as the reason no busing to games or other activities will be available through Sept. 19. Officials say an activity transportation update will be provided no later than Sept. 16.

The Anchorage School District has no plans to make any changes to extracurricular busing, according to spokesman MJ Thim. The district changed the activity bus plan a few years ago given ongoing transportation challenges, Thim said.

“The activity bus schedule operates outside of our school bus schedule,” he wrote in an email. “It starts later as to not interfere.”

The Mat-Su district’s decision stems from the ongoing bus driver shortage, according to public information officer Jillian Morrissey. It mostly affects athletics including football, swimming and diving, volleyball and cross-country running, both locally within the district and for away games and meets in other districts.

“At this time ... families need to work with their school teams to figure out how to provide transportation,” Morrissey said.

She recommended families reach out first to individual team coaches and then to the athletic directors at their schools for more information.

Parents on Friday were being asked to fill out a liability release to allow the use of private transportation.

Student drivers should not provide transportation out of the district to other students, a notice from Colony High School said.

Normally, Mat-Su district policy requires that students travel to and from school-sponsored events and practices via district transportation. The form is required when personal vehicles are used.

“Students who ride with other students/adults to and from school sponsored events or practices do so at their own risk,” the form says.

Durham officials cited a combination of driver shortages and unexpected problems that arose this week including bus breakdowns. The district enacted rolling bus route cancellations ahead of the first day, but problems surfaced immediately on Tuesday.

District officials on Thursday announced that teachers or staff would accompany elementary students on their routes to make sure they arrived home safely.

Zaz Hollander

Longtime ADN reporter Zaz Hollander is based in the Mat-Su and is currently focused on coverage of the coronavirus in Alaska. She also covers the Mat-Su region, aviation and general assignments. Contact her at zhollander@adn.com.

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