Bangor schools will remain closed for the entire week, after six more school bus drivers tested positive for COVID-19 and new cases were discovered among students and staff.
Eleven Cyr Bus drivers and staff have now tested positive for COVID-19, up from five last week.
The additional cases exacerbated the bus driver shortage the school department was experiencing last week that led it to abruptly cancel in-person classes on Tuesday, curtail bus service on Wednesday for the handful of schools that opened and call off in-person classes for the rest of the week.
All schools are now slated to resume in-person instruction next Monday, when the Bangor School Department expects to be able to provide transportation again.
Interim Superintendent Kathy Harris-Smedberg switched from in-person learning to virtual instruction abruptly last Tuesday — with hours to go before school was scheduled to start — after the school department’s bus contractor, Cyr Bus Line, informed her that some employees had tested positive for COVID-19. On Wednesday, when a handful of schools were open for in-person classes, other bus employees were unwilling to work due to safety concerns, leaving students without any bus service.
Just two of the five students and school employees who have tested positive were potentially associated with Cyr Bus cases, Harris-Smedberg said. The other three people contracted COVID-19 elsewhere, she said. The schools with positive cases are Bangor High, Fairmount, Fruit Street and Mary Snow.
Last week, the school department sent out a parent survey asking how many families could provide their own transportation. While many parents agreed to arrange alternative transportation, survey results showed that about 400 students still needed the school bus, Harris-Smedberg said.
“When we have this big of an impact, the equity is best with remote learning because then everybody is able to access education,” she said.
The school department is continuing to provide internet access to about 350 families, as it has done since last spring, when school buildings closed due to the pandemic. The exception to that is kindergarten and pre-K students, who receive hard-copy learning packets on remote learning days.
On Monday, when schools are expected to reopen for in-person instruction, Harris-Smedberg will encourage parents who can to drive their children to and from school as a precaution, she said.
“It would be one less contact that you would have with somebody outside of your cohort of students within the school,” she said. “We understand that is asking a lot, and that most parents probably cannot do that.
“We’re hoping that this is just a short-term solution to get us through the illnesses that are occurring within our drivers and monitors.”
Bangor Public Health Director Patty Hamilton this week will also reach out to bus drivers to remind them of common COVID-19 safety protocols such as mask-wearing and social distancing, Harris-Smedberg said.
Cyr Bus Line told Harris-Smedberg that it will deep-clean buses this week.