School bus driver shortage exacerbated by COVID-19

Published: Jan. 25, 2021 at 5:30 PM EST
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OCALA, Fla. (WCJB) - It was a challenging 2020 for school bus drivers in north central Florida, as they adapted to new COVID-19 restrictions, and the challenges are growing.

With 67 more students and Marion County school district employees testing positive, bus drivers are often exposed to the virus.

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, bus drivers had to take on new cleaning methods and safety procedures, to make sure they remained healthy and that students were safe.

“After dropping my elementary kids off, I’ll come to the rear of my bus and spray my seats from top to bottom to make sure that all of my kids stay safe,” Bus Driver Trainer Katrina Welcome told TV20 in Aug. last year.

But that hasn’t been all that they’ve had to worry about during the pandemic.

Also during this time, they’ve had to deal with a bus driver shortage which has only gotten worse due to the virus.

“Shortage of bus drivers is nothing new. We go through it, ups and downs throughout the year but what is added to that and has taken great effect is COVID. So as it relates to COVID it is the quarantine of the who have come in direct contact with a positive individual or those who are positive themselves,” MCPS Director of Transportation, Rebecca Rora said.

And so when a bus driver does need to quarantine, their route gets picked up by another driver.

“They could elementary or middle, some are doing elementary middle and high depending on bell time, so where we are today, we may have them going back for an additional twit three runs,” Rora said.

Driver Iris Thomas works in ‘zone one’ and hasn’t had to worry too much about working extra routes, but she knows other bus drivers who have had to increase their route coverage.

“One of our other zones, Zone three is impacted very badly, very badly. They are out so many drivers due to the COVID, and office staff are sick and it’s just a big problem right now. Due to this pandemic, we just don’t have a choice,” Thomas said.

But bus officials said they will do everything they can so students remain safe and get to school on time.

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