What’s Going on with DeKalb County’s Bus Shortage?

Emmy Williams, Editor

DeKalb County is currently experiencing a shortage of bus drivers, and with only five out of 16 Chamblee High School buses not impacted, many students have been left without a dependable way to get to and from school.

On Friday, September 10, there was a noticeably high number of absences among bus drivers in DCSD Region 1, which consists of 23 schools including CHS. Soon after being alerted of the absences, the district began consulting with the bus drivers to find out what was going on.

“We had our head nurse, Dr. Morris Sanders, meet with the bus drivers, and we realized that they weren’t getting the same timely information or positive cases as in school. So, we’ve made sure that they’re included in all of those communication trails. We’ve [also] made sure that they have the adequate PPE [personal protective equipment] and cleaning supplies,” said Cheryl Watson-Harris, the DeKalb County School District Superintendent.

While meeting with district officials, bus drivers expressed their apprehensions about working conditions.

“A number of [bus drivers] have expressed concerns primarily about their safety,” said Watson-Harris. “Many bus drivers feel as though the mitigation strategies on the bus haven’t been properly implemented. That includes students that are not wearing their masks on the bus and the fact that so many of them are doing multiple runs, meaning they’re covering routes for where we have a vacancy. And they felt as though they haven’t been having enough time to properly clean the buses between one route and the next, and then another thing was around compensation. They feel like they’re not really necessarily making enough money.”

While many different concerns were shared by bus drivers, safety issues were a major factor in bus drivers’ worries.

“We’re following up on specific things that they have asked for to make themselves feel comfortable. Many of them want a partition around their seat on the bus, so we’re working on getting those done. We also set up a testing center for what we call our frontline workers, our bus drivers, and cafeteria staff so that they can be tested when they have concerns,” continued Watson-Harris.

Salary was also a major concern for many bus drivers. Because of this, the county is planning on distributing an incentive package to improve working conditions for bus drivers.

“I went to meet with the committee [of drivers] to hear their concerns. At that point, we were already working on [an] incentive package, but I was able to share it with them ahead of everyone else so that they knew that we were putting some dollars behind recruitment to get additional bus drivers, as well as other incentives for the COVID vaccine, as well as a gift of appreciation for those that came back,” said the Superintendent.

An app, called Edulog, has been developed in order to allow parents to keep track of where their child’s bus is.

According to the DeKalb County School District’s website, “The app is designed to give parents and guardians information about their child’s school bus ride. The app allows parents and guardians to follow their child’s bus on a real-time map and stay up-to-date with notifications when that bus nears the bus stop, the school, or a custom alert zone. Parents and guardians only receive access by registering with data unique to their child.”

Lastly, Watson-Harris shares a word of appreciation for committed staff members.

“I just want to say how much I value all of our staff members, because while the story that got a lot of attention is around people who didn’t come to work, that many more people who did come to work and who have been coming to work every day and doing whatever they can to keep our children safe. So, I really want to lift them up and say thank you, and applaud them for being true champions for our children.”