Connecticut’s bus driver shortage could soon become severe, as hundreds say they do not plan to return to work on Monday during the state’s immunization term.
News 12 obtained a letter to state officials on behalf of the Connecticut School Transportation Association, which represents 76 bus companies across the state. He says in part, âWe have a major disaster looming on September 27 when the state’s COVID vaccination mandate goes into effect for school bus drivers. The shortage of school bus drivers will become 10 times worse that day, and it will be a government-provoked crisis. “
As part of the state’s vaccination mandate, unvaccinated drivers are required to be tested weekly, but COSTA says 10-15% of its unvaccinated drivers refuse to do so.
Several bus drivers testified in Hartford earlier this week.
âTo our Governor Lamont, how can you sit in your office and dictate this? Said a driver.
âI just say to the bus drivers, ‘You are in a tight gathering frame – a bus and surrounded by children who are not vaccinated. âWe are trying to protect you and we are trying to keep them safe,â Governor Ned Lamont said.
COSTA says a survey of 12 of its bus companies, including the largest, found 1,558 drivers are unvaccinated, 227 of them will not be tested weekly and the remaining 1,331 will be tested. COVID-19 as long as they are free and convenient.
To counter this, Lamont and his staff say state agencies responsible for approving new bus drivers are speeding up every new request that comes in and the state has other carriers ready to help.
âWe have our partner who provides Medicaid transport services; we’ve put them in touch with a number of school districts who have expressed potential concerns about driver shortages, âsaid Josh Geballe, Connecticut chief operating officer.
Lamont says he has yet to receive an appeal to the National Guard, which Massachusetts has done to address its shortage of drivers. COSTA asks the governor to exempt drivers from the warrant.
Otherwise, he suggests a 60-day extension to set up a COVID-19 testing process.
FULL LETTER SENT TO STATE BY COSTA:
We have a major disaster looming on September 27 when the state’s COVID vaccination mandate goes into effect for school bus drivers. The shortage of school bus drivers will become 10 times worse that day, and it will be a government-provoked crisis.
I represent the CT School Transportation Association (COSTA) which is the statewide association for school bus companies. Since the governor signed Executive Order 13D and revised EO 13G, we’ve learned that HUNDREDS of our Connecticut school bus drivers are unvaccinated and the vast majority of those drivers refuse to be vaccinated. There are 10-15% of those unvaccinated drivers who refuse to even get tested every week, so they’ve already quit or will quit their jobs this Friday because they won’t comply with the state mandate (some of those percentages are even higher, depending on the school district).
The remaining drivers have agreed to undergo weekly testing, but if there is a cost to the driver or if it is impractical, they will not comply. Many drivers said they will find other jobs where they don’t need to be tested or vaccinated. As you know, we cannot afford to lose a single driver, and this new requirement will be the last straw for transportation systems in many school districts.
People who do not want to be vaccinated will not be pushed, coaxed, bribed, threatened or convinced in any way to be vaccinated against COVID. They have many reasons including privacy, principle, fears for safety, distrust of government, violation of rights, politics and unwillingness to be pushed. It is a war of wills and the government is losing. A large Connecticut school bus company told me they have a great driver who has been with the company for 10 years and has a perfect attendance record, as well as an exemplary safety and driving record. . She refuses to be vaccinated against COVID because it is against her beliefs and she resigns as of Friday. It is a great loss to the business, the school district and the children it drives. How to replace a driver like this?
To give you an idea of ââthe magnitude of this problem, we surveyed our members and received responses from 12 companies, including most of the largest in the state. Of those companies, 1,558 drivers are unvaccinated, 227 of those drivers refuse to take weekly tests, and the rest of the drivers said they would only do weekly tests if it was free and convenient. Thus, 227 drivers will leave on Friday after work, leaving 227 buses inactive. The remaining 1,331 will take COVID tests the week of September 27 and, depending on experience, may or may not be tested the following week. Every week, school bus companies risk losing more drivers who find the testing warrant cumbersome and inconvenient. When they leave, it will take months to recruit, train and test new drivers, assuming we can find anyone interested in applying.
The state of Connecticut just created the perfect storm for school bus drivers – they instituted a COVID vaccine mandate on an industry that had already experienced a severe driver shortage since before the pandemic, where it takes months to train , test and authorize a driver. And this follows a failure in DESPP’s criminal background check system that caused the processing of school bus driver applications to stop for nearly two months. There aren’t enough drivers to cover daily school trips now, let alone sporting events. Parents, school boards and superintendents revolt. This mandate could not have come at a worse time.
The recent COVID Compliance Guide for Vaccination and Testing was just released by the Department of Public Health late Friday afternoon. These guidelines are onerous and impose heavy administrative burdens on school bus companies, especially when many office workers drive buses due to driver shortages. Please keep in mind that school bus companies have safely transported children to and from school during the height of the pandemic for the past year and a half. Drivers wore masks, students wore masks, and there were cleaning and disinfection protocols between each bus ride and abundant air circulation throughout the bus. Drivers and students were never within 3 feet of each other for a few brief seconds when boarding and exiting the bus and there were no incidents of transmission of COVID from the driver to the driver. student in no school district. Why should school bus drivers even be included in the COVID vaccine mandate?
Our simplest suggestion would be to exempt school bus drivers from the requirements of Decree 13G. Allow school bus companies to apply and maintain the COVID protocols they currently have in place that were developed with their school districts during the 2020 school year and not require the vaccination mandate for the drivers. It is much safer to have students transported on a school bus than to walk to school, carpool, or wait long periods at a bus stop, as trips had to be doubled due to a shortage of drivers.
While the administration does not exempt school bus drivers from the COVID vaccination mandate, COSTA has several concerns and suggestions that we would like to see addressed. These elements are as follows:
â¢ The deadline for implementing the requirements for proof or testing of drivers’ vaccination is too short. DPH issued guidance late in the afternoon of 9/17/21 and expects compliance on 9/27/21. We need an extension of at least 60 days.
â¢ Submitting test results within 72 hours to a school board after weekly COVID testing is unrealistic, especially if the delay is caused by a lab or third-party vendor, over which we have no control.
â¢ The weekly paperwork requirement for COVID testing is too heavy.
SUGGESTION: School bus companies should be allowed to model the administrative requirements of COVID testing after their drug testing and safety training programs and keep all test results in-house so that they can be viewed by officials. appropriate schooling, as needed. Companies will monitor driver testing and compliance and keep all records internally, including copies of COVID vaccination cards.
â¢ There are not enough state testing sites to accommodate all school bus drivers, let alone other state and industry workers who fall under this immunization mandate. Their hours of operation are not suitable for school bus drivers. If drivers have to take time off work to get tested, that’s another school bus that won’t work for this school run.
â¢ If the test is inconvenient and free, school bus drivers will not continue to test and they will leave the industry, which will exacerbate the driver shortage.
SUGGESTION: The most convenient way for drivers to be tested is by their respective companies on site, but school bus companies cannot afford the cost of these tests as compensation was not included in their contracts with their districts. school. School districts or local health departments could also offer weekly COVID testing to school bus drivers and other commissioned employees and be reimbursed by federal COVID relief dollars.
Commissioner, school bus companies tell me that this COVID vaccination mandate will have a devastating effect on their driver population, as many of them will not get vaccinated and comply with testing requirements if it does. is restrictive or inconvenient. We will not have enough drivers to run all the school buses and school districts may be forced to revert to distance learning, for which there is no provision this school year. We need to prevent this disaster from happening, because once the school bus drivers quit our jobs, we may not be able to get them back.
The COSTA representatives and I are pleased to meet with you, Commissioner Gifford (to whom I copied this email), the superintendents and the school boards to discuss this serious issue. I will also contact Chief of Staff Paul Mounds and COO Josh Geballe. We do not want to lose any more school bus drivers and we believe that this crisis can be avoided through common sense initiatives.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Jean Cronin, vice-president. “