LEWISTON — A shortage of school bus drivers could force some Connors Elementary School pupils to walk to school this fall.

Interim Superintendent Jake Langlais told the School Committee on Tuesday night that the critical shortage persists less than a week before schools are set to open.

One solution would be to have Connors pupils in grades three through six who live less than a mile from school walk along a path always in sight of school staff, Langlais said.

“We’ve been scratching at this for weeks,” he said.

In addition to a commercial driver’s license, school bus drivers must pass background checks, he said.

“I asked the (Maine) Department of Education if there were any modifications to the requirements because of the state of emergency,” Langlais said. “I got a very clear and clean no.”

The district’s transportation staff has worked diligently to come up with bus schedules that adhere to social distancing guidelines, meaning one student per seat other than siblings, he said.

“It’s been quite a puzzle,” Langlais said.

The district could do double runs for Connors pupils, but that would disrupt the school day, he said.

“Schools have staggered start and stop times, so drivers go from one run to the next. They are timed to the second,” he said.

He said the district made a “significant financial commitment” two years ago to ensure it had enough buses to transport all students.

It has the buses, and the routes are nailed down, but “we just don’t have enough drivers,” the superintendent said.

Transportation Director Alisa Roman said two additional drivers and two aides would be needed to bus all Connors pupils.

The district is short a total of nine drivers, she said.

Committee Chairwoman Megan Parks asked whether pupils at other elementary schools were being forced to walk or not being given the option to ride a bus.

Langlais said the challenge with Connors is the size of its population. It is the largest elementary school in the state.

Committee member Kiernan Majerus-Collins suggested asking older pupils at other elementary schools to walk so Connors’ third- and fourth-graders wouldn’t have to walk.

“This way, only certain students in certain neighborhoods wouldn’t be asked to walk,” he said.

Connors serves inner-city children, many of whom are children of immigrants.

Member Ryan Donovan said he thought the plan would be fine “until we get to the cold months. I have a real big concern with all the ice.”

Langlais noted that the bus runs will be published this week. School is set to start Monday, Sept. 14.

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