PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The wheels on the bus will be working overtime, as many Oregon school bus drivers are forced to double back and take on extra routes amid the ongoing nationwide bus driver shortage. A crisis which has only been exacerbated by the recent COVID-19 surge.

The Beaverton School District said the driver shortage has forced supervising staff to hop behind the wheel and could result in 90 minute delays for some students. The district told KOIN 6 News, the lack of drivers has placed additional strain on local schools as they fight to keep students in the classroom.

“We have about 275 employees here, so prior to COVID I’d have about 20 to 24 people gone a day normally,” said Craig Beaver, Administrator for Transportation for the Beaverton School District. “Now, we’re averaging about 30 to 40 absences per day.“

Beaver said the recent rise COVID-19 related driver absences has had a devastating impact on school transportation, as the district was already experiencing a driver shortage and began the school year 25 drivers short.

“We’ve determined that our breaking point before we start running into service impairments is about 43 employees,” Beaver explained. “If we have 43 or more employees gone on a given day, then we have to start making decisions about delaying service to certain schools.”

If that breaking point is reached, Beaver said guardians will receive a ParentSquare notification by 6:00 am on the day of an expected delay to announce transportation both to and from school will be 90 minutes late.

The Beaverton School District has made arrangements to ensure the anticipated delays will not impact regular school schedules, and students who arrive tardy will not be penalized. Additionally, teachers are expected to avoid introducing new material or tests on days when buses have been delayed.

The driver shortage has forced the districts transportation team to get creative when filling the gaps. Beaver said the district exceeded its self-imposed breaking point last week, when 45 drivers were out sick. He told KOIN 6 News, they were only able to avoid service delays because eight schools were closed due to COVID .

“It worked out for my department because we had eight schools worth of drivers that we were able to redeploy to those immediate areas so we didn’t have any service impacts,” said Beaver. “If that happened tomorrow, we would not be so lucky.”

According to Beaver, another reason the district has not already had to disrupt service is because administrative staff and other licensed employees, like himself, are stepping behind the wheel to fill the vacancies. He told KOIN 6 News this often comes at the expense of fulfilling other responsibilities.

“I personally am driving a route in the morning and afternoon almost every single day, in addition to my regular duties,” Beaver explained. “Under normal circumstances the supervisors supervise, the trainers train, and I administer. But unfortunately right now, we don’t have that luxury, so we’ll do whatever it takes to get the job done and get kids to school on time.”

To decrease the impact of delays on students and families, Beaver said the district has focused on equity to devise strategic plan regarding which routes would be put on a delay.

“We’re trying to prioritize the routes where families are more likely to be able to drive their students to school rather than those areas that rely on transportation tremendously,” Beaver explained. ”Equity is a primary lens which we continue to look through, so that we don’t impact our most vulnerable populations.”

The Beaverton School District told KOIN 6 News, the need for bus drivers is still dire. The district encourages anyone who may be interested in applying for a bus driving position to visit their website.