Schools struggle to hire bus drivers amid COVID-19 concerns

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A nationwide bus driver shortage is causing delays and adding to families' stress as students across the country return to school amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In Lee County, Florida, parents are being told to expect significant school bus delays for the foreseeable future. In Virginia, the Chesterfield County Public Schools superintendent urged parents to assist with the shortage.

“We are asking you to please drive your child to school,” Dr. Mervin B. Daugherty said.

EastSide Charter School in Delaware is offering parents $700 to drive their own children to and from school.

But this isn't possible for all parents. In Pittsburgh, the school bus shortage is making it difficult for parents who work full time. “I work two jobs. I can't get them to and from school every day,” one mother said.

The shortage of drivers has Pittsburgh Public Schools telling nearly 800 parents that their children will have to walk to school and back every single day. “My six-year-old is not going to walk here even with a group of people,” said one parent.

These new policies stem from a lack of new school bus drivers across the country. Rudolph Saunders, the director of public transportation for Prince George's County Public Schools, said the problem is nothing new, but the numbers are higher than usual.

“This has always been an issue. The difference is right now, the numbers are probably double what they normally would be at this time of year or more in terms of our need,” Saunders told CBS News Errol Barnett.

Saunders oversees transportation for the more than 130,000 students in Prince George's County, Maryland. He told Barnett that his network is under pressure.

“It puts us in a situation where you might have to condense a route by adding two routes on the same bus. So there's more kids on the bus,” he said.

School officials are using cash incentives to try to up their workforce. In Atlanta, $1,000 bonuses are on the table for new hires, while Baltimore is offering three times as much. The shortage is so dire in Montana that Helena Public Schools are offering a $4,000 bonus. Saunders said his school district might follow suit and offer cash bonuses, but they haven't made that decision yet.

The president of the National Association for Pupil Transport, which represents school bus drivers, said the pandemic is partly to blame because older drivers have to consider the health risk.

“You don't typically find people that are eighteen to twenty-five driving a school bus. It's people of age that are in their forties or later, and some of them may be afraid to get on a bus because of COVID. And the students that may or may not have been vaccinated,” Steve Simmons said.

Bus driving instructor Johnnie Walker, who trains new drivers for Prince George's County schools, says his job is pivotal to the education system.

“That's the most important job in the system because without getting those kids to school and getting those kids to school on time, you know, they're missing education,” Walker said.

The NAPT estimates tens of thousands of drivers are needed nationwide. But even if there were an influx of applicants suddenly, it can take 6-8 weeks to train someone to get their commercial driver's license — which means they would not be qualified to drive until October.

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