Upwards of 300 school bus drivers may not report to work on Monday due to a statewide vaccine mandate that goes into effect that day leading to possible delays and more significant impacts, according to the Connecticut School Transportation Association (COSTA).
COSTA said they surveyed drivers about a week ago regarding the vaccine mandate for drivers. Vice president of the association, Jon Hipsher, said they used the survey results to estimate that upwards of 300 drivers across their network will not report to work on Monday because they are refusing both vaccination and weekly testing.
"People don't want to be forced into doing something and we need more time for them to be able to evaluate what the mandate is," said Hipsher.
In addition, DATTCO, a company that provides bus service to 26 school districts in Connecticut, is warning superintendents all of its drivers may not be in compliance with the state COVID-19 vaccine mandate that takes effect on Monday.
Gov. Ned Lamont issued an executive order requiring all state employees, K-12 teachers and staff, and early childhood staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Sept. 27 or follow a weekly testing option.
DATTCO said of its approximately 1,000 bus drivers in the state, about 85% are vaccinated and just over 100 are willing to be tested weekly. About 10 drivers are not willing to be tested at all, according to DATTCO Vice President Bryony Chamberlain.
"We are going to be doing all reasonable efforts to be compliant with the mandate," Chamberlain said.
Chamberlain said the company has reached out to the superintendents of the districts it works with to let them know where the company stands with compliance.
"...at this point with so many people now subject to these weekly testing, there are areas where it is difficult to get tests. So we might be trying to be compliant, my drivers are willing to be compliant. I can't guarantee 100% compliance when I don't control the availability of testing," Chamberlain said.
She said DATTCO is leaving it up to the districts and superintendents to let the company know if they are willing to let drivers continue with their routes even if they are noncompliant or if they want routes dropped.
The company said the majority of the drivers subject to weekly testing were able to get tested ahead of next week but that testing remains a concern moving forward.
The governor's office said they have worked to support school districts across the state through the bus driver shortage. A spokesperson for the Lamont administration said they have connected districts to additional transportation services that can help cover routes. They have also worked to speed up the process to become a driver by expediting paperwork like background checks.
The state does not plan on extending the mandate deadline currently.
"Partially because we believe that parents around the state want their children, especially those who are unvaccinated, around people who are vaccinated. And that doesn't change whether it's Monday, whether it's Wednesday, whether it is Friday or it's December 1st," said Max Reiss, director of communications.
If hundreds of drivers do resign on Monday, Hipsher said parents should expect delays.
"It's not going to be on every bus run, but just be prepared for that," said Hipsher. "At the bus stops, Just be out maybe a little bit earlier. Be prepared if you don't see it right away. Just a little bit more patience."
COSTA also does not believe that there is enough access to testing statewide to support the mandate.
The governor's office said there is adequate testing, adding that there are more than 800 vaccination sites statewide as well.
"The easiest thing for those people to do is to get vaccinated. It is safe and it keeps them and their families safe," said Reiss.
The vaccine mandates have accommodations for medical exemptions or "sincerely-held religious beliefs," then acting state public health commissioner Deidre Gifford said when the mandate was announced in August.
The medical exemptions would have to be documented by a healthcare professional, Gifford said.