More than 200 school bus drivers may not return to jobs ahead of Monday’s COVID vaccine mandate deadline

Connecticut

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HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — Over 200 school bus drivers are expected not to show up for work Monday. State COVID-19 vaccines mandates go into effect Monday, and some drivers say they have a religious and/or health aversion to taking it.

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John Hipsher, a spokesperson for Connecticut School Transportation Association (COSTA) said, “the driver shortage is massive.”

“We’re hoping that maybe some folks that had told us that they weren’t going to vaccinate or weekly test are maybe making some last-minute decisions to do so,” Hipsher told News 8.

Ann Baldwin, spokesperson for COSTA added, “Perhaps this executive mandate now may have said to them, ‘Okay. Let me look at this again. Let me at least agree to testing and/or vaccinated’. So, we won’t know until [Monday] morning.”

In a letter obtained by News 8 from the COSTA to the commissioner of the state Department of Education, COSTA leaders warn, “The school bus driver shortage will become 10 times worse on that day, and it will be a crisis driven by government.”

That day meaning Monday, Sept. 27, when Gov. Ned Lamont’s COVID vaccination mandate for certain workers goes into effect.

Hipsher says, “Moms and dads should have patience for sure on Monday.”

The Association represents nearly 60 companies. A recent survey shows a snapshot of those who responded:

  • 1,558 of the drivers are unvaccinated
  • 1,331 will take COVID tests
  • 227 of those drivers are refusing to test weekly 

In nearby Massachusetts, the National Guard was called in by the governor to help drive the kids to school. News 8 has learned our state has “other carriers” waiting in the wings.

State COO and commissioner from the State Dept. of Administrative Services, Josh Geballe, explains, “Our partner, who does Medicaid transportation services, we’ve connected them to a number of school districts who expressed concerns about driver shortages.”

What if COVID test results are not back in time? Should a bus driver show up to work? Hipsher says his drivers from COSTA should not.

“For this first week, they should not be showing up,” Hipsher said.” If a district contractor is not in compliance, there is a penalty.

Geballe points to the executive order: “School districts could potentially run the risk of their state funding being at risk.”

The COSTA is asking the governor to exempt drivers from the mandate or compromise with a 60-day extension to get a process for COVID testing in place, allow bus companies to do their own COVID testing, and ask that the state reimburse districts for COVID testing.

“I can tell you we’re in active discussions with the bus drivers,” Lamont said. “I can tell you we’ve done everything to accelerate getting additional bus drivers in place.”

But Hipsher warns, ”if you start integrating drivers on-routes that don’t know the protocol, you’re crossing the line on safety.”

Fran Rabinowitz, the executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents added, “We hope we have all of our bus drivers back. We know that bus drivers are an incredibly important part of our team to bring about success to children. Everyone’s important.”

Officials said in addition to packing your patience, you should stay in touch with your local school district. 

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