The Pennsylvania departments of Education, Health, and Transportation on Thursday addressed the ongoing bus driver shortage, and provided updates on the anticipated rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5-11 and COVID testing in schools.
Across Pennsylvania, students are excited to be back in the classroom, learning and growing and playing alongside their classmates,” said DOE Secretary Dr. Noe Ortega. “Our schools and students are resilient, and under the extraordinary circumstances created by the pandemic, this has been a good start to the school year. I thank the students, parents and communities for working together and finding creative solutions so students can remain in the classroom, where it’s vital for them to be.”
PennDOT Deputy Secretary Kurt Myers said the department is reaching out to approximately 375,000 drivers with a Commercial Driver’s License in the state about the immediate need for school bus drivers and how to get the correct endorsements for a school bus license.
He also said school districts can use Federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds to reimburse parents and guardians who are driving their students to and from school because of the school bus driver shortage.
PennDOT plans to expand its days of operation, starting Oct. 18, to offer CDL skills testing at 23 locations.
To schedule a CDL skills test, either visit the Driver and Vehicle Services website or call 717-412-5300.
“We urge CDL licensees who are seeking work or supplemental employment to obtain a school bus endorsement – taking advantage of the additional hours for CDL testing – to help transport students safely,” Myers said.
Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam noted students 12 and older are currently eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.
This week, Pfizer submitted its application to the federal government for approval to administer vaccine to children between 5 and 11 years old.
She said the Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Centers for Disease Control review process likely will take several weeks, but encouraged school districts to contact local vaccine providers to schedule on-site vaccination clinics.
“It’s very encouraging that more than half a million school-aged kids are already vaccinated,” said Beam. “We know that vaccinations are one of the best ways to prevent illness due to COVID-19 and help keep students learning in-person. That’s why we encourage everyone eligible to get vaccinated and we encourage schools to help make it as convenient as possible.”
In Pennsylvania, 21.9% of children ages 12-14 are fully vaccinated and 42.6% of children ages 15-19 are fully vaccinated.
Last month, an order by the acting Secretary of Health directed vaccine providers to coordinate vaccine clinics with schools for the employees, contractors, volunteers, students, or students’ families.
Additionally, 396 schools are using the 100%, federally funded COVID-19 testing program the Wolf administration launched for the start of this school year to provide safer in-person environments.
Beam said the testing program, along with vaccination, physical distancing, facilities improvements, face coverings, and hand hygiene, will reduce the spread of the virus and keep students in classrooms.
Schools can opt-in to the testing program at any time.