LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — As Fayette County Public Schools began sending students back for in-person learning, more and more bus drivers, monitors and substitutes did not show up for parts of their shift, took medical leave, or called out for several days. Their absence left the district scrambling for transportation employees to staff more than 200 bus routes.
By the end of the first week at the end of February with kindergarten through second-grade students attending school, nearly 10 percent of the transportation staff was not at work.
An FCPS transportation team member, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of losing their job, described what it was like for staff on the buses the first few weeks.
"The first week with K through (grade) two was not bad at all. As the next week came in, (grades) three through five, of course, you've got many more kids," they said. "During that week, there were a few drivers that were transporting up to 70 kids per elementary school. And unfortunately, there's no way to social distance. So, they had two to three kids per seat, just to get them home."
The employee said keeping track of which seat a child was in on the morning commute and trying to put them back in the same seat has been a challenge while trying to maintain distance and enforce other COVID-19 procedures.
"There are kids on the buses that do not wear their masks, they can't keep them on or they don't want to wear them," they said. "The only thing we can do is just recommend. And then, you know, tell the supervisors, 'Hey, I've got this student here. We need to let the school know that this is happening.'"
After seeing the decline in transportation staff and sporadic attendance, FCPS's school board called a special meeting on March 1 and decided to implement a pay incentive for the rest of the school year.
Those incentives include:
- A $30 bonus per day for bus drivers who complete their morning and afternoon routes
- A $20 bonus per day for monitors who complete their morning and afternoon routes
- A pay raise from $14 to $30 per hour for substitutes
Since that pay change was announced on March 1, the district said it has seen some new employees. The transportation member told LEX 18 the increase in pay was a "complete surprise" that the team has not seen since 2015 so she saw a boost in a "little bit of the morale" among colleagues, but overall explained the shortage and sporadic attendance is not because of the money. They said it out of concern for contracting the virus.
The employee said after an FCPS bus driver died from COVID-19 in April 2020, "Fear has been dwelled into the back of our minds...when you get on a bus. You're looking at the list of kids, and it's almost as if you get the visual of when you see a child, you're not seeing the child, you're seeing a coronavirus."
As a parent and an employee, the transportation team member said they are on both sides of the fence.
"I have concerns, I had mega concerns about sending my child back to school, but I didn't want to take away her wanting to go back. So, she's back at school, but I am very concerned about her riding the bus, especially considering the close proximity that these students are sitting in."
With more grade levels expected to return to their classrooms as well as dozens of special bus routes to program schools, the transportation team member told LEX 18 they're not sure how they will pull off Monday's bus routes.
"We're all kind of wondering what's gonna happen. The only thing we can do is just pray for the best," they said.
FCPS told LEX 18 it is working on solutions that they will announce as soon as possible.
The transportation team member said the hope is for better communication from the district about contact tracing on the buses.
"It feels like there's a lag in time from when the information is given to the health department to the school district and then down the line to the division," they said.
The employee also said families need to do their part.
"Help us with protecting their kids, protecting us, making sure they follow their end of the deal with their temperature checks, if they're able to take their kids to school on certain days or what have you, to help reduce the number of students on a bus," They said. "It's just we all have to work together. And, you know, they say that it takes a village to help, you know, bring children up in the world, and I think Lexington -- it's a big community. It's a big village, and we all should work together and be mindful of each other."
Click here to apply to become a bus driver or monitor for FCPS.