Flu causing school bus driver shortage in Guilford County

GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. -- The flu is causing a big headache for some Triad school districts, putting a strain on the entire transportation teams, and it could affect when your child may get picked up and dropped off from school.

Twenty-five bus drivers called out sick Thursday in Guilford County Schools alone.

Guilford County bus drivers cover more than 560 routes every day. Between those people out sick, on top of 30 to 35 vacant driver spots, nearly 60 buses had no one to drive them.

“This time of year is always big with people calling in sick," said Jeff Harris, the transportation director for Guilford County Schools.

Many bus drivers are taking extra measures to keep their space clean.

“Sprayed the tops of my seats, the hand rails, places I could think that I know everybody’s touching," said Barbara Moore, who has driven a bus for GCS for eight years.

Many of the drivers are sick with the flu themselves, but others have sick children or family members, causing a trickle down effect to the healthy drivers. They're working to pick up the slack.

“I literally drive all day nonstop," said Katina Johnson, a GCS bus driver.

Harris says schools in the Jamestown and High Point areas have bee hit the worst this flu season.

“I don’t know if has anything to do with the amount of students that are in that area that are also sick coming onto the buses," he said.

Drivers say the problem is happening in every zone in the district.

“We’re always tight. We need drivers. We need subs," Moore said.

The number of substitutes they need also changes everyday.

“It actually changes form the morning to afternoon," Harris said.

Drivers like Moore and Johnson have to double up.

“It makes it tough to help out, where the other drivers are missing, a lot of times those kids are going to be picked up late, dropped off late," Moore said. "It’s confusing to the kids. The parents get annoyed, but what can we do? You can only do so much.”

At the same time, Harris says he doesn't want bus drivers coming in when they're too sick to drive.

“It may become a safety problem," he said. "That’s really the fine line. You want your drivers to come in as much as they can, but you never want to compromise safety because someone’s not feeling well.”

So district officials are asking you to keep your sick kids home from school to keep as many drivers as possible behind the wheel.

The district doesn't have a way to notify individual families if their kids' bus will be late. Instead, supervisors for each bus zone will contact the schools affected by delays, who then tell parents.

Harris said his department is brainstorming ways they can implement a program to notify families directly, but that solution is likely a long way off.