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SCCPSS bus driver protest affecting bus routes

Published: Sep. 3, 2021 at 7:40 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 3, 2021 at 3:36 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - Several Savannah-Chatham County Public School System (SCCPSS) bus drivers went on strike Friday morning and did not drive their routes.

The group of dozens of drivers have been protesting at the Savannah-Chatham County Public Schools bus lot on Gamble Road.

According to the district, over 50 SCCPSS bus drivers called out of work Friday morning saying they will not be driving their routes. Bus drivers said their main concerns are safety on the bus, fair pay, retirement benefits, and overall communication from the school board.

“Literally enough is enough. We have tried several forms of communication as far as sitting in the office, talking to them to try to negotiate some issues and the answer is always the same, we are working on it. So today we decided not to move the buses because why...we are working on it,” SCCPSS bus driver Kendrick Banks said.

The protest is heavily affecting bus routes Friday morning. The school district sent the following notification to parents to warn them of the issue - “The Savannah-Chatham County Public School System Transportation Department is currently experiencing significant delays district wide.”

A school district spokeswoman said the district was not aware ahead of the strike Friday morning. The district states it is working to call all the additional coaches or employees with a CDL licenses to make sure all the kids were able to get to school and can get home Friday afternoon.

Drivers and monitors plan to protest again at 1 p.m. and will not drive their afternoon routes. The district estimates close to 20 percent of all drivers are out, so the district is telling parents to expect delays Friday afternoon.

The following statement was sent by SCCPSS:

“SCCPSS is working to overcome staffing issues among bus drivers that created delays with morning arrivals on Friday, September 3, 3021. An already understaffed department was hindered further when 54 drivers unexpectedly called out and were not available to transport students. The District notified parents of the potential for delays in an early morning notification. The driver callout has the potential to impact afternoon routes as well. We will keep our families informed of any possible delays this afternoon.

The District is working to pull from other staffing resources to provide coverage for the routes left vacant. SCCPSS apologizes to our families for the disruption this situation may have caused and is committed to ensuring all students arrive to school and return home safe and on time.

The District continues to advertise for drivers and is actively hiring. The staffing of this department is a key strategic priority. Drivers play an integral role in the operation of our school system and serve as a resource that thousands of our families rely on each day. SCCPSS has implemented COVID safety mitigation practices including the use of masks on the school bus, and deep clearing and daily sanitization practices. Contact tracing procedures also extend to the school bus. Any affected staff or students must follow quarantine protocols.

District Administration is working to identify the drivers who did not report to work today and to determine the factors that contributed to their absence. SCCPSS is committed to working closely with transportation staff to find solutions that support our shared goals of providing quality educational services to the 37,000 children we serve daily. We appreciate the patience and understanding of our families during this labor shortage period.”

The drivers who called out Friday represent about 22-percent of the school district’s driver roster. Many of them came out with signs, chairs and umbrellas, intent on sending a message to the leaders of Savannah-Chatham County Public Schools.

WTOC spoke with one driver who says more people need to be out here supporting them, given the important jobs they have of transporting the district’s school children.

“The parents should be with us...one hundred percent. Teachers, all employees of SCCPSS, they should be with us right now,” said SCCPSS bus driver Randi Frazier.

“To your colleagues who are still driving, what would you say to them,” WTOC asked him.

“I feel they have to do what they have to do. And I feel they should be with us, and we pray for them,” he replied.

To get routes covered Friday afternoon, the school district had to call on employees with CDL licenses like maintenance workers and athletic coaches to fill in.

WTOC also asked a school district representative what they plan on doing Tuesday if the same amount of drivers call out.

“We were able to indeed cover the vast majority of those routes. In fact I believe there’s only one that they weren’t able to cover. It does involve calling in those other drivers, other people with CDL licenses who are, again because they have CDL license, fully certified to drive the bus,” said Sheila Blanco, SCCPSS Public Information Manager. “If we have a number of drivers that don’t show up to work on Tuesday, then the district will be forced to look at other options, to get students to school, which is what we had to do this afternoon. Obviously we were taken by surprise this morning.”

Blanco added calling on drivers in other district departments isn’t something that they can keep relying on if this continues. School district administrators are working to identify the drivers who did not report to work today to determine why they called out.

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