They were up before the sun on Tuesday morning, a change from the sleeping in and staying up late that two months of summer vacation affords. Students and parents, some happier than others, welcomed the start of the new school year across Fairfax County, greeted by familiar faces and new friends as they returned to classes.
Several buses at Cooper Middle School in McLean were delayed, the result of a shortage of bus drivers and a change in bus routes over the summer months.
"It's a driver issue. There's a shortage of drivers," said Dave Witte, an assistant principal at Cooper. "Many of our drivers are doing multiple runs."
Delays in student arrivals are not uncommon for the first few days of school, said Paul Regnier, Fairfax County Public Schools communications director. "This is an amazing bus system and we try to be as cost effective as possible," he said. "With a new school year, there are new kids to get to the bus stop and new bus runs."
Regnier said he was "not sure what happened at this particular situation," but said that "a little bit of a shake-up in the first day or two is not uncommon. Our first priority is always the safety of our students, so if they're a little late the first day or two, it's not a big deal."
The entire county is experiencing a driver shortage, said Linda Farbry, director of transportation for the Fairfax County Public School system. "We're beginning to attack the problem now since we changed our pay scale, and a lot of the people we've hired are still being trained," she said. "The northern part of the county does tend to have the biggest shortage, and some drivers now in Langley are being asked to do some runs for Cooper too," she said.
One possible solution might be to have those drivers who pick up students for Langley High School pick up some Cooper Middle School students as well, Farbry said. That arrangement might help the morning runs, but not after school. "It's not our most pleasant option, but we'll see what we have to do," she said. "We're looking for drivers in other school areas to be transferred up, but every area is hurting."
Other than the delays at Cooper, Farbry said she didn't know of any "major incidents" occurring Tuesday morning.
"The first day is always a challenge," she said.