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GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. (WGHP) — Guilford County Schools is asking parents to drive their children to school as the district struggles to fill open bus driver positions.

The call to action came Tuesday when Superintendent Sharon Contreras spoke on safety plans in place for the school year.

“If you can bring your child to school, please do so,” Contreras said. “As is the case across the country, GCS is experiencing a bus driver shortage in addition to pandemic-related absences. We need your assistance in alleviating stress on the system.”

FOX8 surveyed 19 school districts in the Piedmont Triad and found that there were more than 300 openings to fill drivers’ seats and other related positions. Guilford County had 372 bus drivers but still needed another 55.

Those figures could have risen or fallen slightly since they were submitted to WGHP.

Bus driver requirements

Bus drivers often are a combination of retirees, people looking for secondary jobs and part-time school employees.

The job, though, can be high-stress, with early hours, repetitive routes and the predictable driving stresses of large vehicles’ maneuvering through peak traffic flow and facing various types of weather. There also is the ever-difficult role of keeping order and safety among the students.

Drivers by nature are required to have dedication, punctuality and the patience required to deal with both other drivers who can be unpredictable and students who can be disruptive.

The state’s licensing requirements are simple. Candidates must:

  • Have the proper class commercial driver’s license (referred to as a CDL), with P and S endorsements.
  • Meet physical and legal requirements.
  • Complete the 3-day School Bus Driver Training Course.
  • Perhaps, based on the school district, pass written or road-skills tests.

Trouble with bus driving licenses

But at least one person who hires drivers said luring people to the field also can bring regulatory hurdles.

Jeff Johnson, transportation director at Alleghany County Schools, said government regulation associated with the CDLs is in part responsible for the shortage of drivers.

“Drivers are required to undergo extensive background checks, DOT physicals every two years, be subjected to random drug screens, healthy fees when obtaining CDL license and physicals, and maintain a clean driving record,” Johnson wrote in an email. “School bus drivers that obtain a Class B CDL License with the Passenger and School Endorsement must renew every 3 years instead of the standard 5 years. Also, most Yellow Bus Drivers have to make themselves available for the morning run and the afternoon run.

“A lot of these regulations are put in place to protect the public, but the compensation for the driver is simply not there.”