It’s a quandary many school districts are facing in the coronavirus era of shuttered campuses: What to do with bus drivers?
In some places, drivers have been tasked with delivering school meals to families. Fairfax County Public Schools in Northern Virginia, however, has another solution: Send bus drivers out to drive their old routes in empty buses, picking up no one and delivering nothing, to justify their continuation on the payroll.
Starting Monday, “all drivers and attendant[s] will be required to run their routes twice a week to sharpen your driving skills,” reads a Wednesday email from an administrator to a team of drivers at a Fairfax County high school. “If you are unable to perform this task ... you must put in for leave.”
The email, obtained by The Washington Post, says this kind of route-running will continue “until we go back to school.”
Fairfax on Tuesday started the school year fully online for its 189,000 students, although the school system is hoping to return small groups to the classroom in coming weeks.
Fairfax spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell said the school district is pursuing “many sorts of plans” to keep bus drivers active and employed, including asking some to deliver breakfasts and lunches to students every day. She said bus drivers recently filled out a survey that asked them to list their skills and abilities, and that human resources and transportation staff are “working on matching these skills to tasks that need to be handled.”
Caldwell did not answer a question about how many high schools are asking bus drivers to re-trace their old routes for practice. The school system employs roughly 1,200 drivers, whose pay starts at $19.20 an hour.
“FCPS bus drivers are continuously training to keep their driving skills sharp,” she said. “At some point, schools will resume and this is important.”
In a mid-August message to staff, Fairfax Superintendent Scott Brabrand promised that the school district would not furlough any of its bus drivers or food service employees during the 2020-21 school year. Drivers would return to work Aug. 25, he wrote.