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Grainger Co. Schools closes due to lack of bus drivers and substitutes, saying many caught COVID-19

The school director said the situation had been growing worse, and last week he had to teach middle school math just to make ends meet with staffing.

GRAINGER COUNTY, Tenn. — Grainger County Schools announced early Friday morning that it will be closed due to a lack of bus drivers and substitutes and rising COVID-19 infections.

School director James Atkins said  the pool of drivers for buses is falling short of the school system's needs to fill all 53 routes, saying 10 drivers were out Friday morning. Atkins said shortages of bus drivers and substitute teachers has been brewing for weeks, saying it's an issue other school systems are facing as well due to the rise in COVID-19 infections.

"We could not come up with a scenario to where we could get the students to school. Most of these 10 drivers have COVID. I will speculate and say 8 bus drivers have COVID. It may be 7 and it may be 9," he said.

Atkins said last Friday, Grainger County Schools had 27 positions that were left unfilled because of teachers, assistants, custodians and other staff being out with not enough substitutes able to fill in. 12 of those were at Joppa Elementary School. Atkins said it got so bad he volunteered himself to teach middle school math.

"To keep from shutting down the school system last week, I repurposed employees! In other words, I moved employees from other schools to Joppa Elementary and Rutledge Middle Schools," he said. "I am so proud of our employees for going to the other schools to assist. I had supervisors riding a bus and filling in as a secretary. It was a beautiful piece of teamwork!"

Atkins said the system has eight reserve licensed bus driver backups between its maintenance and transportation departments, and at its central office. However, because 10 drivers were needed Friday, the school system fell short by two.

In a Facebook post made by Grainger County Schools, officials said that "today, we are now short multiple bus drivers and simply can’t cover all the routes with our substitute drivers.  Doubling up on routes is not even an option.  Therefore, I have no choice but to call off school today."

Officials said their plan is to count Friday as one of its 10 inclement weather days assuming the state allows.  

Only the employees that work snow days will be required to work on Friday, officials said.