Schools scrambling to cover bus routes

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By combining shorter routes and having several drivers run two routes, Murray County Schools now have all their bus routes covered, according to Superintendent Steve Loughridge.

Three bus routes were down last week, surprising parents and leaving some students scrambling for a way to school.

School board members on Monday questioned Loughridge and School Maintenance and Transportation Director Mike Pritchett on why parents of three unfilled routes were not warned in advance.

“Some of the parents were mad,” Pritchett told the board. “They called and we answered.”

Pritchett and Loughridge told board members that  when school starts, the school system does not have a data base of who rides the bus. That information is gathered after the school year begins.

“We don’t have a list of students who ride the bus,” said Loughridge.

Board member Sparky Roberts asked Pritchett what he would do differently now.

“I guess we could mass blast (e-mail the parents of all students) everybody, but I don’t know  how effective that would be.”

Pritchett said he was looking at ways to get the needed data before the school year starts.

Murray County isn’t the only county having trouble with finding bus drivers, according to Pritchett. The threat of COVID-19 has thinned the ranks of people willing to drive a school bus.

Pritchett told The Times he needed eight new bus drivers to fill all the routes and eliminate  drivers having to cover more than one route. He said he has several people undergoing training now but still needs more drivers.

Pritchett said the number of bus riders has gone up quickly since the first day of school.

COVID

Loughridge said on the first week of school a class at Chatsworth Elementary had been sent home for 14 days of quarantine.

He told The Times that the parent of a student was confirmed to have COVID-19 and the student had begun to feel ill.

Following state protocols, the entire class (plus teacher and a para pro) is quarantined and receiving virtual instruction.

“What happened is unfortunate, but so far the system has worked the way it’s supposed to work,” said Loughridge.

Buildings

Loughridge told board members work on Gladden Middle School was continuing even as students attended classes.

Loughridge said he hoped the gymnasium will be completed, except for bleachers, by Oct. 1.

Completion of the kitchen won’t take place until after Georgia Power replaces an aged transformer at the school. Currently, GMS students are receiving boxed lunches prepared at another site.

Loughridge said Georgia Power officials have told him they plan to put in the transformer on the weekend of Sept. 26. When that is done, the kitchen can be set up.

“We’ll have to get everything inspected, but we hope to maybe be ready by the middle of the week,” said Loughridge.

Loughridge said the vocational wing has now been completed and he believes the media center is also up and running.

“All in all, I think things have gone rather well,” he said. “The important thing is the kids are in the school.”

Extensive repair work also continues at Northwest Elementary School, which was badly damaged by tornadoes in the spring. Students are attending classes there as well,  but many classes are being held in trailers rented by the school system.

The trailers are paid for through November by the school’s insurer, but Loughridge expects the system may have to pay rent on the trailers for at least one month.

Murray Virtual

Barbie Kendrick, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, told board members there were 1,166 students involved with the virtual learning program. She said 600 of those were elementary students, 566 in middle and high school.

“I really appreciate our principals’ patience,” said Kendrick. “This is new to all of us.”

Kendrick said the program was “through enrolling” but would consider adding students at a principal’s request if a student’s “family member had a severe illness.”

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