As students begin their return to class this year, some of them are going to find that getting to school has become a more challenging task than before. Like other localities nationwide, Fairfax County is experiencing a shortage of bus drivers. While such shortages are nothing new this one was made especially painful due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
The Fairfax County Public School system is currently taking steps to attract bus drivers who meet requirements for eligibility and can complete the criteria for new bus driver employment. Among the incentives that the FCPS is offering for new, qualified drivers is a signing bonus of $2,000 on top of the regular salary for drivers which comes in at just under $32,000 per year.
FCPS also posted a notice on their Facebook page alerting parents and caretakers of the situation:
“Parents and Caregivers: You may have heard that FCPS, along with many other school districts nationwide, is experiencing a bus driver shortage. As a result, there may be delays impacting bus routes across FCPS starting Monday, 8/23. If you can walk with or drive your child (and perhaps a neighbor’s), please do. Also, we ask that you update your transportation status through your school, if you choose to not take the bus. We are continuing efforts to recruit and hire drivers. In the interim, please accept our apology for the inconvenience. Thank You.”
“We are asking families to be patient during the first week of school,” said Jennifer Sellers, FCPS Office of Communications and Community Relations. “Our team has done everything possible to make sure any delays or double-backs are kept to a minimum.”
The delays and double backs are in reference to recent events in Stafford County where a bus driver dropped a child off on Garrisonville Road three miles from the girl’s home and turned away. The girl was able to call her parents and was picked up unharmed. While no situation like what happened in Stafford has yet to occur in Fairfax such concerns are on the minds of the parents in Fairfax County.
Some buses have had four children packed in a seat in order to avoid some of the delays, according to parents posting on social media. “Well it’s super important to keep kids from sitting next to friends while eating lunch but quite an exception during transport to school…” commented a parent on Facebook.
Another parent said the bus actually had students sitting on the floor. One parent reported that their child’s bus didn’t show up at all in the morning August 23 and that afternoon arrived at school to pick up students 45 minutes late, so her children got home an hour and a half after dismissal. The bus arrived 40 minutes late the second day. “I called transportation and was told that they had everyone that could drive a bus out on routes,” she said. “This is not the answer and it is not sustainable.”
According to the National School Transportation Association, private school bus operators provide nearly 40 percent of the nation’s school bus service in 200,000 yellow school buses with close to 380,000 employees.
The NSTA’s press release on the matter claimed that the driver shortage came about due to economic losses, the furloughing of thousands of employees, and the closure of state department of motor vehicles agencies that would have certified bus drivers before the beginning of the school year.
«Due to deadlines provided for in the American Rescue Plan, many school bus contractors around the country have found it difficult to garner new employees and with continued disincentives to return-to-work, it will become increasingly more difficult to get potential new bus drivers trained, certified, and licensed in time for a return-to-school,» explained Curt Macysyn, executive director of NSTA.
Another concern that has affected recruitment is the fear of contracting the new Delta variant of the coronavirus. Recently, Fairfax saw an uptick in reported cases of contracting the virus due to new variants but have seen very few deaths as a result. According to data provided by the Virginia Department of Health, Fairfax County has seen a total of five deaths in the month of August from the virus.
The average age of a bus driver, according to Data USA, is 52.3 years with the average age of a male bus driver is 54.4 years and the average age of a female bus driver is 49.8 years. This would put many in the profession within the range of susceptibility for the virus.
On top of that, a survey conducted by California-based school ride service HopSkipDrive found that respondents believed that a large school district with a population between 25,000 to 100,000 could take as much as three months or more to get the school bus systems back into normal working order. Fairfax County has an estimated population of 1,147,532.