School bus driver shortage heightened during pandemic

Bus Driver Concerns

Jacksonville, FL. — Transportation to school could be more dangerous than the classroom itself, some drivers argued. Student Transportation of America union members said they’re down about 70 drivers because some are worried to work under the current conditions.

“This is the most precious cargo. More than UPS, more than FedEx, more than Amazon,” Faith Jackson, a driver, said. “These kids' lives are at jeopardy every day.”

Jackson is the chief steward for the union. She joins other drivers with a list of demands starting with more protection for the drivers and bus attendants, something like a plastic shield.

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“the kids still have to walk past you,” she said. “And where do the attendants lie when it comes to their safety? The bus drivers will be protected by the barrier. But the attendants have to be hands on.”

In the classroom, the Florida Department of Health handles contact tracing, however, drivers said they are last to find out.

“By the time we catch wind of the child being positive, several days went by,” Ramon Turner, a union member said. “I’ve combined mine and two other elementary routes to get these kids to school because we don’t have the drivers,” Vikki Seidel added. She’s also concerned about cleaning on the buses and brings her own cleaning supplies to help.

In a statement, Student Transportation of America told Action News Jax, “Keeping Duval students and STA employees safe is our top priority. All vehicles are cleaned in accordance with applicable federal, state, local and district guidelines with cleaning products approved by the CDC and EPA. High touchpoints are wiped down after each run with a CDC-approved disinfectant and buses are sanitized with an antimicrobial agent based on the manufacturer’s recommended schedule.” They went on to say, “We are consistently impressed with the dedication of STA’s drivers and monitors, all of whom have gone above and beyond this school year to ensure that students get to and from school safely and efficiently. As a company we are always looking for qualified, dedicated drivers to join our team and welcome anyone who might be interested to apply on our career site.”

Duval County Public Schools said social distancing on buses is nearly impossible. They’ve required drivers and students to wear a mask.