ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – As the first day of school approaches, some districts in Central Florida are still trying to hire bus drivers to transport students to school.
Orange County Public Schools is even encouraging more parents to drive their children to school to help prevent overcrowding on buses.
Orange Education Support Professionals Association President Ron Pollard represents bus drivers in Orange County and said that won’t fix the issue.
“It’s not going to happen. Parents have to work,” Pollard said.”We’ve got shortages of bus drivers, so some buses will be crowded. It will be impossible to social distance on buses.”
Pollard said one of the issues is the low pay school bus drivers are offered.
“The bus drivers with the same CDL license can make more money in the private sector with companies like Disney and Amazon,” Pollard said.
News 6 reached out to Orange County Public Schools and their media relations office couldn’t provide how many drivers they still need Wednesday. But there were ‘bus operators’ positions posted on the district’s website.
The district’s deputy superintendent gave an update during News 6′s back-to-school town hall Tuesday.
“We will have assigned seating on buses and encourage parents to drive their [children] to school to cut down on bus capacity,” Maria Vazquez said.
Orange County is not the only school district experiencing bus driver shortages ahead of the first day of school. News 6 checked in with other local school districts:
• Marion County Public Schools still needs 28 more bus drivers
• Lake County Public Schools has 26 open positions
• Sumter County said they are fully staffed for bus drivers, but will keep bus driver positions posted on their website for substitute drivers
• Seminole County Public Schools said they could use about 15 more bus drivers
“If there’s an influx of children at a bus stop and that bus doesn’t have enough seats, they have to leave the children there because they can’t overcrowd the bus,” Pollard said.
Pollard said bus drivers are taking on extra routes, and students may be stuck at the bus stop waiting for another bus if theirs is full. Pollard said many bus drivers are also concerned about their health. Although the Orange County School District is calling for a mask mandate for employees, masks for students are optional.
“The [health and safety] protocol is so vague and so watered down. It’s not the same as last year and this variant is so much more contagious and dangerous,” Pollard said “A piece we’re not seeing is the mental stress on people who come to work and they’re afraid that they’re going to catch COVID-19. Unfortunately, people are dying from it.”
According to the district’s health and safety plan: Buses will be cleaned and disinfected as needed. Bus windows will be lowered to improve air circulation. If a student becomes ill during the day, that student will not be able to return home on the bus.