BETHEL, Wash. — The school year is just beginning, but already the need for bus drivers is taking a toll on students.
“They’re getting shuffled around to sometimes two or three different busses to try to figure out which bus will be taking them home that day,” said bus driver Brandy Heassler with the Bethel School District.
She said sometimes students will have to wait more than an hour for a bus to arrive. That’s because there are more routes than there are bus drivers.
Heassler said bus drivers here are overworked, underpaid, and have had enough. So much so that nearly 40 bus drivers called out sick last Friday. Their ‘sick-out’ caused district-wide chaos.
“Friday we didn’t have a bus,” said Patty, a local parent.
The ‘sick-out’ prompted the Bethel School District to send out messages like this: “We don’t have enough drivers to cover your student’s route. If you’re unable to transport your child their absence would be excused.”
“This year hearing about the shortages, we’re just not even going to rely on the bus system,” said Patty.
Bus drivers recognized the lost faith in their routes, and wrote a public letter to the district.
It reads in part: “Bethel School District’s transportation department is in a state of general crisis, due to compounding factors. Our leadership is floundering and our drivers are overworked. Frankly, our children are paying the price for it, due to overcrowding, constant change in their schedules and routines, and a multitude of safety issues. PARENTS SHOULD BE CONCERNED. Kids are being missed, left behind, and are regularly late for school.”
We spoke with several parents about the bus situation.
“I mean it sucks but you just got to make it work,” said John, a local parent.
A sentiment shared by bus drivers.
“Every single bus driver in Bethel District right now is pretty frustrated,” said Heassler.
Bus drivers plan to attend the Bethel School Board meeting on Tuesday to address their concerns. When asked if more ‘sick-outs’ were planned, Heassler told us, “No comment.”
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