back to school

Waterbury Bus Drivers Voice Back-to-School Safety Concerns

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“Everybody discussing what should happen in the school, but nobody’s discussing what should happen on the bus,” said Sonya Minnis, who has been driving students in Waterbury to school for more than two decades.

Tuesday, Minnis and a dozen or so other Waterbury public school bus drivers told NBC Connecticut that they’re worried about their health, that of their families and the students too.

“We’re not here because we don’t want to work. We want to work. We love our job. We love the kids. We love each other. It’s just more like we’re scared for our safety,” said Minnes.

These drivers work for Durham School Services, one of two transportation companies contracted out by the city.

The drivers said they've have had minimal communication with the company and want the opportunity to give safety input, like the request to install Plexiglas barriers behind their driver seat like in grocery stores.

“There’s not a plastic behind us and you know that’s where the snotty nosed kids like to sit. They’re leaning over, checking out the bus driver,” said driver Natalie Hernandez.

Durham’s parent company, National Express, said they’ll be keeping the first row behind the driver empty to reduce the risk.

And, they said they’ll be following all CDC and state COVID-19 protocols, which include wearing masks and social distancing on buses.

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“The safety of our passengers and employees has been and always will be our number one priority,” said spokesperson Edward Flavin in a statement.

“Some of those kids do not listen to the drivers. I don’t know how we’re going to handle that when we don’t have an aide with us,” said driver Iska Cintron.  

While drivers said they’re concerned about the large number of students Durham has assigned to their routes recently, the company told NBC Connecticut they anticipate a much lower ridership this fall with many students virtually learning.

A spokesperson for Waterbury Public School District says they’re working collaboratively with their transportation vendors to ensure safety. They said they’ll help educate students on bus safety procedures, make sure buses are sanitized daily between runs, and diligently monitor ridership and make reductions.

Drivers who spoke with NBC Connecticut said they were told they would not be paid if they had to quarantine due to a potential workplace exposure.

“Every potential employee exposure to COVID-19 is reviewed by our team, and if an employee is required by our Company to quarantine due to a potential workplace exposure to COVID-19, then the employee will be paid," Flavin told NBC Connecticut.d.

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But just days before the start of the school year, drivers are driving home the point that they’re concerned for their safety and want more protections.

“They still have to walk past us. We have nothing to protect us except these masks,” said Minnes.

And they have many more questions, like will they recognize parents of preschoolers and kindergartners at drop off?

“’Oh that’s daddy’s mask, that’s my daddy over there.’ We get dropped off, we get fired because we let Johnny off with Jose’s dad who has the same mask as Johnny’s dad,” Hernandez said, describing the hypothetical problem.

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