LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — After Gov. Andy Beshear ordered school districts to prepare to close as a result of the coronavirus on March 11, Fayette County Public Schools announced they would be launching the “Bus Bites” program. The program would deliver meals to students at designated stops while schools around Kentucky were closed.
On Wednesday, transportation employees received paychecks which reflected their normal pay plus additional compensation for hours worked during the “Bus Bites” program. However, FCPS employees said the days after the program was announced were confusing and communication was unclear, which is why many of them showed up to work in the first place.
Multiple FCPS transportation employees told LEX 18 they were under the impression their normal pay would be affected if they chose not to work the “Bus Bites” program. They said this stems from two memorandums distributed on March 13 to bus monitors and drivers from Transportation Director Marcus Dobbs.
“You have the option to work next week or not,” reads one of the letters. “By not choosing to work, any missed time will be added to the end of your work calendar. If you do not work the time added to the end of your work calendar, your pay will be negatively affected at that time.”
James Vest, a bus driver for the school district, said showing up for work didn’t feel like a choice.
“This was not voluntary. Voluntary doesn’t mean there’s going to be repercussions if you don’t do this,” Vest said.
LEX 18 has spoken with more than 12 employees who all said they felt the same way. They said it’s why they continued showing up after they found themselves surrounded by co-workers waiting for their assignments inside and outside the bus garages.
“[We’re] packed in here like roaches,” described one Liberty Road bus garage employee in a video taken on the first day of the “Bus Bites” program.
“That room is so small and there’s so many people in it, there is no way you could walk through there and keep six feet distance,” Vest said about the Miles Point bus garage. “Nobody would have let the kids go without [food] but there were smarter ways to go about this. There were safer ways to go about this.”
When asked why communications changed between March 13, when employees were told they would be affected if they chose not to work, and April 13, when they were told to expect additional compensation for working those days, Lisa Deffendall said it was always Superintendent Manny Caulk’s intention that the program be voluntary and people continue to be paid.
“Between March 12 and March 21, multiple communications were sent to all employees from the superintendent and the human resources director to clarify work calendars and work options while schools were closed," Deffendall said. "Each message superseded previous communication as the situation with COVID-19 in the Commonwealth continued to evolve,” read the statement. “However, each message emphasized that concern for the health and safety of employees was the district’s primary concern, that supervisors would be flexible about work assignments and that employees would continue to receive their contracted pay.”
The Bus Bites program was active from March 16 through March 25. FCPS cancelled the program after an employee directly involved with the deliveries tested positive for COVID-19. This was the second school district employee to test positive for the virus.