Bus driver shortage causes headaches for Athens students

Students+board+the+bus+in+the+morning+to+head+to+school.+Bus+drivers+shortages+have+caused+headaches+for+students+and+parents+around+the+county+this+school+year.

Photos by Aniya Nicholas

Students board the bus in the morning to head to school. Bus drivers shortages have caused headaches for students and parents around the county this school year.

Students running late for the bus and rushing to get ready make it outside just to find out their bus is not even coming. It’s fourth period and here comes the familiar voice of Steven Mares’ popping up announcing the bus routes that do not have a driver. There has been a bus driver shortage in Wake County during the 2021-2022 school year because of bus drivers going on strike and the increase in Covid cases.     

Covid cases are still at an all-time high and bus drivers have been calling out. Over 150 bus drivers were absent, and more than 100 bus routes were canceled in Wake County one week in November 2021. On average bi-weekly, the increase of people testing positive is 25%. Bus drivers have been demanding better pay due to this impact of Covid and to get their voices heard, they have been going on ‘strike’.

“The situation that happened a few months ago dealt with drivers not feeling appreciated and respected by the school community. In addition, drivers did not feel respected and valued by the county and state enough to be compensated appropriately for their hard work,” said Donti Coats, Assistant Principal. 

The Wake County Board of Education authorized a one-time $1,250 incentive for full-time and part-time employees; however, bus drivers in Wake County called in sick to work in November in protest of low wages and poor working conditions. They are being exposed to many different viruses and infections carried by students. They also handle buses and students in adverse weather conditions. 

“Bus Drivers and custodians are typically the first employees to begin their day and the last ones to get off work. Bus Drivers normally begin their workday at 5 a.m. or earlier,” said Coats.

Bus drivers are important for a school day of teaching and learning.  They provide a safe way for students to get to and from school. Most students rely on the bus for transportation because their parents work or do not have cars. Without bus drivers, students would, in most situations, miss out on achieving and receiving their education.

“It makes me upset because my mom has to work in the morning so sometimes she’s not home ,and I have to take rides with my friends,” said Joseph Mogaka, junior. 

Students like Mogaka who have dealt with their buses not showing up sometimes end up just not going to school. By the time some students do find a ride to school, they are late to their first period, missing class time. 

“I am outside waiting for the bus at like 6 o’clock in the morning and I stand out there for an hour and sometimes it is cold. And by the time I get to school, I have to get tardy slips for class. I would then have to make up work at home because of how late I was,” said Josten Cagle, sophomore.

During the call-out situation that happened in November, the school had teachers and staff members who have their Commercial Drivers License (CDL) agree to operate activity buses to get students with no ride home safely. 

School Bus Drivers are vital to the smooth continuation of education and a good school day. School Bus Driver Appreciation Week was from Feb 8 to the 12. However, administrators want to make sure students always make sure to thank their bus drivers, not just during that week.

 “Each day poses its own challenges but when the students make it to school it is a win for me,” said Coats.