Bus drivers for Lee County schools call out, leave kids without a ride

Published: October 25, 2021 4:24 PM EDT
Updated: October 26, 2021 10:15 AM EDT

Nearly 100 bus drivers in Lee County school’s east zone weren’t behind the wheel Monday. They are demanding better pay and better treatment.

Parents told WINK News they had to leave work early to pick their kids up from school. Others said their kids just stayed home when their bus didn’t arrive in the morning.

Monday morning 83 drivers in the east zone called in sick leaving 166 routes and thousands of kids without a ride to school or a way home.

Lee County parent Michelle Gronroos and her son didn’t have to deal with the bus driver shortage Monday morning. Her son walked to his bus stop and caught a ride to school. But when Gronroos checked Facebook, she realized not everyone had such an easy morning.

Gronroos said, “I read Facebook like a couple of hours later and nobody’s kids were getting picked up so that I was like ok what’s going on?”

By the afternoon Gronroos worried her son may not have a ride home. She called the school to ask if buses were running and said she couldn’t get an answer. So she went and picked him up herself just to be safe.

“He didn’t have a ride home. I got a phone call from the school this afternoon when I had already had him in the car. Provide transportation for your children,” said Gronroos.

Ashley Smith didn’t have that choice. The bus is her kid’s only option to get to and from school, so her kids stayed home because the bus never came.

“I’m kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place, you know, I mean, obviously, I don’t want them missing school. But I really don’t have any other options,” said Smith.

Cristina Tieno also waited and waited for the bus on Monday morning. “So here comes 5:25 the bus comes in, it’s supposed to be at the bus stop. It’s 5:45 still no bus. Six o’clock still no bus. 6:15, we started to call the compound,” Tieno said.

Candy is another Lee County parent who had to wait for her kids’ bus. “It wasn’t until after seven this morning that I got a message stating that the buses are running late and they’re doing the best they can to pick up all of the students,” she said.

Parents say they want to respect the wishes of the bus driver but, at the same time, many don’t want their children to miss out on their education. By 7 a.m., many of these and other parents had to get to work or take their other children to school.

Tieno has five kids and is used to buses coming late. Her only ask is to know ahead of time. “I’m beyond frustrated because of the lack of communication,” she said. “So they know that they have over 50 call out, I mean, send that text out immediately. Don’t wait until 11 o’clock, 12 o’clock, I got that email at 12:30.”

Lee County’s transportation director Roger Lloyd said he’s hopeful the driver “sick out” is a one-day thing. He said the district has called most of the drivers who called out, some said they will be back to work.

Bus drivers say they are asking for better pay and better working conditions.

“They do have concerns about the working conditions, and they’re valid. It’s tough. They’re all overworked,” said Lloyd. “We can work with the schools, we can do things better here at the compound to help them out. So yes, we’re working on solutions for most of their concerns.”

The transportation director did not get specific on what solutions the district is working on, but he said he met with drivers at Lehigh Senior High School to hear their concerns. He hopes to make some changes to help them.

He said any kind of strike is against school rules and he plans to investigate and hold drivers accountable for what happened Monday.

As for parents, they hope what happened on Monday will not spill over into Tuesday. “We’ll just winging it and wait at the bus stop,” Candy said.

The president of the support staff union told WINK News she supports her members but does not condone strikes.