SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Dozens of bus drivers employed with the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System (SCCPSS) called out Friday morning protesting the district’s handling of pay and safety.

Organizers say over 70 drivers joined in the protest, though the school district reported 54 drivers unexpectedly called out.

SCCPSS first alerted parents of the issue Friday morning, stating: “The Savannah-Chatham County Public School System Transportation Department is currently experiencing significant delays district-wide.”

In recent weeks, WSAV has heard from several bus drivers who say problems were present even before the pandemic.

“The pandemic only exasperated the situation,” explained school bus driver Kendrick Banks. “If it’s not safe for the bus drivers and the monitors, it’s not safe for the children. If it’s not safe for children, then it’s not safe for the community.”

Alicia Dean, a bus monitor, says she is frustrated with the pay system.

“I love my job, I love working with the children. I have no other complaints but my pay,” said Dean. “I’m a single mother, I have five children. I have to supplement income coming in in order to take care of my family. I shouldn’t have to work two, three jobs to do that.”

To prepare for afternoon delays, SCCPSS said other staff members were pulled to work vacant routes. Parents seemed to prepare too.

At West Chatham Middle School, parents started lining up nearly an hour before Friday’s afternoon dismissal.

“I can’t say I blame the bus drivers,” said James Ashbrook, waiting in the carpool line. “They’re wanting something in return for the hard work that they do, and something’s got to be done to this point.”

Ashbrook added, “Unfortunately, these are the consequences now that everybody has to deal with.”

“SCCPSS apologizes to our families for the disruption this situation may have caused and is committed to ensuring all students arrive to school and return home safe and on time,” a statement from the district reads.

SCCPSS continued:

The District continues to advertise for drivers and is actively hiring. The staffing of this department is a key strategic priority. Drivers play an integral role in the operation of our school system and serve as a resource that thousands of our families rely on each day. SCCPSS has implemented COVID safety mitigation practices including the use of masks on the school bus, and deep clearing and daily sanitization practices. Contact tracing procedures also extend to the school bus. Any affected staff or students must follow quarantine protocols.

District Administration is working to identify the drivers who did not report to work today and to determine the factors that contributed to their absence. SCCPSS is committed to working closely with transportation staff to find solutions that support our shared goals of providing quality educational services to the 37,000 children we serve daily. We appreciate the patience and understanding of our families during this labor shortage period.

Savannah-Chatham County Public School System