Despite rumors to contrary, in-person instruction to resume Tuesday for Rome students

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“There is zero possibility that we are remote for the remainder of the year,” said Peter Blake in response to rumors racing around the Rome City School District that at least elementary-aged students, if not Rome’s entire student population, might not return to in-person instruction on Tuesday.

The district was forced into a temporary return to remote learning by an acute bus driver shortage resulting from COVID-19 restrictions from Friday, Oct. 1, through today. All students are set to return to in-person learning on Tuesday, Oct. 12, following Monday’s holiday.

“That is a rumor being started by someone who just wants to cause trouble and stress in the community,” said Blake.

John Nash, president of the Board of Education, seconded Blake’s unequivocal assurance. “Other than the rumor mill, there is no talk about extending remote leaning past Friday the eighth,” Nash said.

While a labor shortage of school bus drivers is plaguing district’s nationwide, the Rome district has suffered a series of scenarios that have made for a rocky return to school, including a switch of transportation companies from Birnie Bus to First Student; the flooding and closure of Staley Elementary School and a delay associated with the relocation of those students; followed by issues with delays and no-shows of buses when the delayed school year began on Monday, Sept. 13, then last week’s issue with drivers sidelined because of COVID restrictions.

At one point, officials said, nearly a third of the district’s already short-staffed crew of drivers had tested positive and were quarantining.

To further muddy the now metaphoric flood waters that continue to engulf the district and its transportation, a recent survey pushed out by email to school district parents, intended to identify students for whom families might be able to provide transportation for the balance of the school year, so that bus routes could be shortened and/or less drivers needed to service them was beset by a series of misunderstandings and misinformation around efforts to avoid the upcoming temporary return to remote learning to lead families to erroneously believe that is what the survey would serve to do - until they opened it - and saw that it was exploring, not that time frame in October - but the entire school year.  

Disappointed and confused, many parents simply closed the survey at that point without completing it.

Blake, in a recent published report, advanced his understanding that this confusion led to only 60% of Rome District parents completing the survey.  

While he didn’t view it as a complete failure, where the information the district did gather would still be helpful in looking to reduce ridership and redevelop bus routes.  But the district had certainly hoped for far more participation.

Blake shared that he is leaning into state and federal resources to find solutions to the district’s lingering driver shortage, including identifying a list of eligible drivers in the region, circulating from New York State Governor Hochul’s office.

Blake assured that the they are working through the temporary remote learning week on those hiring efforts and that they hope to hire 10 to 15 more drivers “to be comfortable.”

Meanwhile, Rome district parents who have not yet done so are urged to visit the district website to complete the transportation survey.

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