The surge in COVID-19 cases is impacting the way kids get to school. Lee County schools are seeing an increase in bus driver call-outs this week because those drivers are sick.
Parents and grandparents are worried because the bus is the only way to get their kids and grandkids to school for many of them.
When you can’t hire new bus drivers, you need to keep the ones you have, but The School District of Lee County is struggling to do even that. The number of school bus drivers is at an all-time low.
Lee County Schools Spokesman Rob Spicker said, “we had probably most of the first semester about 50-60 open positions, so here we start the second semester with 90 open positions. A number of drivers did not come back after the Christmas break.”
The ones who did return to their routes are getting sick.
“On Monday we had 128 drivers and attendants that called out sick, and on Tuesday we had 126 drivers and attendants call out sick, so that is twice, a little more than twice the average daily absence rate, so that has severely impacted the way we are able to transport children to and from school,” said Spicker.
Verleen Thompson is feeling those impacts firsthand. Her grandson has special needs and rides a bus with an attendant to school every day.
Thompson said that the bus hadn’t shown up the last two mornings. “I’m not angry at them because I understand the COVID and, you know, I’m not gonna be mad at nobody because I know COVID, that’s bad, but I can’t afford for him to stay home either, because he needs to be face to face in school.”
The Lee County School District agrees. Spicker said staff is working around the clock to make sure kids still have a ride. “As long as we are this short of drivers, the bus will be there. It just may be really late.”
Thompson said because the bus didn’t show up two days in a row, she called an Uber to get her grandson to school. She felt she just had no other choice.
Thompson said, “I called, and they say they didn’t have no attendants, so they wasn’t gonna send a bus.”
Thompson can’t just take James to class. She has three other young grandchildren to get to the bus stop, so she did what lots of us do when we need a ride.
“Yes, I had him take an Uber. Yeah, and we can’t afford every day, you know to pick him up and bring him,” said Thompson. “I don’t think they’re gonna get any help, but I hope they get some, somebody applied for the job, bus drivers and attendants.”
The Lee County School District hopes for the same thing. A district spokesman said 30 drivers quit after Christmas.
Many who came back are now sick.
“We know there is a surge-related effect right now, that drivers are calling in saying they are sick or are feeling sick and they are going to go get a test,” said Spicker.
Thompson said she understands the shortage and the COVID surge, but she worries, not just for her grandson James, but for the parents who can’t call an Uber to get their kids to school.
“Those kids, they need to be in school. They need their education. They can’t, they can’t afford to miss a day.” Thompson said, “give us a solution. What can we do? I need a solution.”
The solution is simple; hire more bus drivers, but that’s proven extremely difficult this school year.
If you’re interested, the district hopes you’ll apply and help kids like James get to class.