Officials warn families to have backup plan ahead of school bus driver absences in Cumberland County Tuesday

Cumberland County News

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (WNCN) — School bus drivers in Cumberland County plan to protest low pay and long hours by calling out sick on Tuesday.

The Cumberland County School District says it won’t know which schools or bus routes will be impacted until Tuesday morning.

“If they’re gonna participate in a true strike, there won’t be a heads up, they just won’t come,” said Kristi Harden, executive director of transportation for the Cumberland County School District.

She added, “We will practice the same process when covering buses on a typical day. Obviously, the number could be higher than what we typically do. But we’re gonna notify schools and push that information out as quickly as possible.”

Bus drivers in Cumberland County start around $12 an hour. The district has nearly 390 bus drivers who take 17,000 students to and from school every day.

No one knows how many plan to call out sick, so Harden is asking parents to have a backup plan to get their kids to school.

“If it’s possible, I would set up backup transportation,” she said. “Unfortunately at this time, we just don’t know what it will look like.”

The planned protest comes after the school district gave bus drivers a one-time $1,000 bonus in their last paycheck.

Harden met with 114 drivers last week and tells CBS17 money isn’t their only concern.

“The greatest concern was not knowing specifically what student may have been impacted by COVID,” Harden said. “But due to HIPPA and other regulations, we’re not at liberty to just share. We have protocols in place — you’re notified if you’re considered a close contact, but in this case, you may not have been considered a close contact.”

After Wake County school bus drivers organized a similar protest a couple of weeks ago, the school board approved a one-time $1,250 bonus for full and part-time drivers.

A spokesperson for the Cumberland County School District wouldn’t say if another bonus is in the works, but that everything is under consideration.

“Nothing is off the table, but as a school system, as we are thinking about improving wages and increasing wages for employees, we have to think about the entire organization,” said Lindsay Whitley, the associate superintendent of communications and community engagement for the Cumberland County School District.

Students who can’t find backup transportation to school will be off the hook and excused from class.

“Worst case scenario, if a student had to be absent from school, they would not be counted absent in terms of it being an in excused absence. It would be counted as an excused absence,” Whitley said.

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