SC bus driver expresses COVID-19 concerns: ‘We’re the first to come in contact with students'

Updated: Aug. 5, 2020 at 8:31 AM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - As discussions continue over schools reopening, we’re also hearing from one South Carolina bus driver and some of the fears he has over returning to work.

Terrence James says bus drivers are the first to come in contact with students. He also says, even before the pandemic, bus drivers were regularly put at risk because he says children are often sent to school even when parents know they’re sick.

A couple of years ago, James created a social media group for South Carolina bus drivers to connect and share concerns. He went over many of their COVID-19 concerns with WIS-TV, recently.

According to safety measures in place by the South Carolina Department of Education, buses will have no more than 67% capacity with only one student per seat, when possible. Students from the same family may be allowed to share a seat, but three students per seat is not allowed.

Students and drivers will be required to wear masks though there are exceptions. Students under the age of two will not be required to wear masks, also anyone who has trouble breathing or taking off the mask will be exempt.

Buses will be cleaned and disinfected twice per day after completing morning and afternoon routes. Some buses will even undergo physical changes to allow for increased ventilation.

Still, James says some drivers fear their lives could be at risk, even with these safety measures in place.

“My biggest fear is bringing this virus home to my family: my wife, my father, my nieces, nephews – just bringing it home to my family. You can’t look at a person and tell who has this virus. So, my biggest issue is just coming home and infecting my family with this virus,” said James.

James also talked about how several school districts are already dealing with bus driver shortages adding that, now, there could be a need for even more drivers with fewer students on buses and possibly more routes needing to be covered. He’s also concerned that all the added safety measures will be difficult to enforce without another adult on the bus to help ensure these procedures are being followed.

“We have a big responsibility to already drive and concentrate on the safety of getting them to school and back home, but will all the other [measures] that may have to take place as far as maintaining social distance, making sure they have their mask on, making sure they stay in their assigned seat and not moving all about on the bus, it’s going to be very tough,” said James.

The SC Department of Education is also recommending that school districts consider assigned seats, and adding an adult monitor.

Pay for bus drivers is another big area of concern. James says many drivers believe they should qualify for hazard pay, which is additional pay for working what’s considered to be a dangerous job.

There are also questions about how pay will be affected if students aren’t physically going to schools five days a week. Plus, what happens if a student or bus driver gets infected and need to quarantine? How will that affect pay?

A representative will the SC Department of Education says hourly pay and schedules will be determined by each individual school district.

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