LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - A bus driver shortage aggravated by the pandemic could pose another challenge as Kentucky’s largest school district, Jefferson County Public Schools, seeks ways to safely return to in-person learning.
“We’ve been short on bus drivers, and we continue to be short on bus drivers,” JCPS Superintendent Dr. Marty Pollio said during a recent school board meeting. “There’s no doubt about that at all, and the pandemic has made things more difficult.”
John Stovall, the president of Teamsters Local 783, the JCPS bus driver union, said the district is at least 175 drivers short.
“If they open up on a limited basis, like kindergarten through third grade, they may be fine,” Stovall said. “But if they open up school all the way across, Kindergarten through twelfth grade, they don’t have enough bus drivers. There’s no way in the world they have enough bus drivers right now.”
JCPS anticipates around 60% of its more than 96,000 students plan to return to in-person learning when given the option, according to a district-wide survey. District officials said only some of those students will ride the bus, which will help with the driver shortage.
“I’m not going to say we have every bus driver we need to fill every single position that we have,” Pollio said. “But I’m confident that we will have the bus drivers we need to meet the needs of our kids getting to school safely and effectively.”
However, Stovall told WAVE 3 News some drivers are concerned about other problems they might face once the students are on board.
“What happens if Johnny or Tori doesn’t want to wear their mask?” Stovall asked. “Do you stop the bus and say, ‘You have to put the mask on?’ It’s not like they can tell little Johnny to get off the bus, so that’s going to be the problem if he or she doesn’t want to wear that mask.”
Stovall went on to say that the “vast majority” of JCPS bus drivers want to return to work, but some are worried about the health risks involved.
“There’s a lot of people who will probably retire once school goes back, because they may be older, have health conditions; stuff like that,” Stovall said. “They’re going to have to sit down and really think, ‘Is this worth this? Am I really putting myself at risk?’”
Pollio has said JCPS is following state guidelines for safety when transporting students, including requiring everyone to wear a mask on the bus unless they have a medical waiver and ensuring everyone uses hand sanitizer when boarding.
JCPS is currently hiring bus drivers. To learn more or apply, click here.