More than 200 Connecticut school bus drivers are expected to walk away from their jobs before Monday’s state vaccination mandate deadline.
In a letter sent to Charlene Russell-Tucker, commissioner of Connecticut’s Department of Education, a representative of the state’s school transportation association warned of “a major catastrophe looming” with a government-driven crisis.
“Since the governor (Ned Lamont) signed Executive Order 13D and revised EO 13G, we have learned that hundreds of our Connecticut school bus drivers are unvaccinated and the vast majority of these drivers are refusing to get vaccinated,” wrote Jean Cronin, vice president of the Connecticut School Transportation Association (COSTA). “There are 10-15 percent of these unvaccinated drivers who are even refusing to get tested weekly, so they have already resigned or will be leaving their jobs this Friday as they will not comply with the state mandate (some of these percentages are even higher, depending on the school district).”
Lamont announced the vaccination mandate for state employees, childcare workers, and school staff on Aug. 19.
“Being vaccinated against COVID-19 is the most effective means of preventing infection and subsequent transmission,” Lamont said. “Our dedicated state employees must work together to ensure a safe work environment for one another and can do so by getting vaccinated.”
That executive order required at least one dose of a vaccine by Sept. 27. Those who don’t get vaccinated due to various exemptions must undergo weekly tests, under the order.
“The people who do not want to get vaccinated will not be pushed, cajoled, bribed, threatened or convinced in any way to get a COVID shot,” Cronin wrote the Russell-Tucker. “They have many reasons, including privacy, principle, safety fears, mistrust of government, violation of rights, politics, and not wanting to be pushed. It is a war of wills and the government is losing.”
The state association polled its membership, Cronin reported, and said that 1,558 drivers working for 12 companies that responded are unvaccinated. Of those, 227 refuse to be tested. The rest would agree to weekly testing only if it is free and convenient. Based on their experience with testing, those remaining drivers might continue taking the tests each week, but some might not.
“Each week the school bus companies risk losing more drivers who find the testing mandate to be burdensome and inconvenient,” Cronin wrote. “As they leave, it will take months to recruit, train, and test new drivers, assuming we can find anyone interested in applying.”
COSTA recommends that the state exempt bus drivers from the requirements of the executive order. Failing that, the association raised other suggestions and concerns for the government to address:
- A 60-day extension of the compliance deadline of Sept. 27.
- Reconsideration of the 72-hour timeframe for submission of COVID test results to a school board, especially if delays are caused by laboratories or third-party providers.
- Concern about lack of state testing sites and convenient testing hours to accommodate all school bus drivers, let alone other workers who fall under the mandate.
In the letter, COSTA recommends that school bus companies be allowed to model COVID testing requirements after their existing drug and safety training programs. They would “keep all testing results in-house for viewing by appropriate school officials as needed,” Cronin wrote.
She also wrote that the most convenient method of testing would be on-site by drivers’ respective companies, but “school bus companies cannot bear the cost of this testing as compensation was not included in their contracts with their school districts.”
If something isn’t done to remedy the situation, Cronin wrote, “We will not have enough drivers to run all the school buses and school districts may be forced to return to remote learning, for which there is no provision this school year.”
Eric Scoville, communications director for the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE), told School Bus Fleet that CSDE, Gov. Lamont’s office, and many partner agencies “are working to find solutions to the issues raised.”
“We continue to have both internal and external conversations multiple times per day on this very topic,” Scoville said.