Chicago Public Schools won’t bus general education students for the rest of the semester

More than a dozen school buses are parked by each other.
Chicago Public Schools said it won’t provide bus transportation to general education students for the rest of the semester. (Rick Elkins / Getty Images)

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Chicago Public Schools won’t provide busing to general education students for the rest of the semester, officials said Tuesday. 

District officials informed families of the decision Tuesday morning, said Charles Mayfield, CPS’ chief operating officer. 

“We really wanted to give parents an early notice to let them know that you don’t have to come back and keep asking and hoping,” Mayfield said. 

Mayfield said district officials will re-evaluate the decision in December before winter break and update families then on the state of transportation service.

Blaming a driver shortage, CPS has restricted bus transportation this year to students with disabilities and those who are living in temporary housing, groups that are legally entitled to transportation. District officials say they have just 681 drivers — similar to figures last month and half of what they need, Mayfield said. 

At the start of the school year, Mayfield said the district would try to provide busing to more children if it could hire more drivers, but the needle hasn’t moved on new hires since August. 

“We’re continuing to do more outreach,” Mayfield said.

Over the past year, the district has hosted roughly two dozen hiring fairs, raised driver pay rates by $2, to $22 to $27 an hour, and added more bus companies in an effort to ease the driver shortage, officials said. Mayfield said it may be too soon to try new strategies, given that boosting hiring can take a while, and some of the steps, such as increasing pay, went into effect only recently. 

The limited bus routes have enraged many families of general education students who have relied on busing in the past, including those in magnet and gifted programs, and they have expressed their concerns at Board of Education meetings. These families are eligible for free CTA cards, including a companion pass for parents. But of the roughly 5,500 children who are eligible, just under 1,600 have used that option, Mayfield said. (The district mistakenly said in July that 8,000 students were eligible.)  

Some parents of young children have said they can’t send their kids alone on buses or trains and also can’t accompany their children because of their work schedules.

Alexis Luna said the lack of transportation could force her to keep her third-grade daughter out of school occasionally. Because of Luna’s inflexible work schedule, the girl’s father usually drives her to Inter-American Elementary Magnet School in Wrigleyville in the morning, about 45 minutes from her Belmont Cragin home. Luna typically picks her up. 

But if her father has to travel out of town for work, Luna won’t be able to cover the morning drop-off. In that case, Luna said, “I will have to put her in day care, and she’s probably going to have to miss school.”

Tuesday’s decision comes in the middle of the district’s school application season, during which families apply for gifted and magnet programs. The application period ends in November. 

Last year, bus transportation was available to any eligible student. But the district has struggled since 2021 to provide timely and reliable service. For example, thousands of students with disabilities last year had commutes longer than an hour — a problem the district has nearly eliminated this year as it has restricted bus service. 

Currently, the district is providing bus service to 7,300 students who have disabilities or live in temporary housing. It has also offered stipends to families of these students who prefer other modes of transportation. The first round of those are expected to be mailed out this week

As of last Friday, 324 students with disabilities were waiting for routes, Mayfield said, adding that new requests continue to come in. 

Reema Amin is a reporter covering Chicago Public Schools. Contact Reema at ramin@chalkbeat.org

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