By: Erin Freeman | Lynnwood Times Staff
Hundreds of bus drivers have lost their health insurance amidst the pandemic. The Edmonds School District eliminated their positions ascribable to the current academic year distance learning model.
In mid-August, 175 Edmonds School District drivers were notified that their jobs were being eliminated due to a loss of transportation needs in the recent shift to remote learning. The terminology ‘eliminated’ gave the district leeway to no longer contribute to any of their health coverage and benefit plans.
As of September 11, the district has recalled 3 drivers- two who will transport students to Special Education programs outside of the district. The remaining driver will transport students enrolled in technical programs. The district will continue to assess needs for staffing and recall drivers as necessary, says Harmony Weinberg, spokesperson for the Edmonds School District.
About 12 people protested the layoffs on September 9 at Meadowdale High School, seeking to at least get their health care maintained during the pandemic to keep them and their families healthy and safe.
Christina Walker, a driver in the district for 12 years, says that losing health benefits, especially in the middle of a pandemic, is difficult to accept. She expressed heightened concern for those with an increased risk of coronavirus complications.
“What about our older drivers? They’re at risk, and they lost their health insurance during this health crisis,” said Walker. “I’m worried about a lot of them.”
Washington school districts’ transportation funding typically falls to how many students are utilizing bus services, leaving districts and drivers unsure as to how drivers would be protected in distance learning. However, on August 26, Governor Jay Inslee issued emergency action authorizing the state to distribute transportation funding to districts if their drivers were performing other supportive duties for students, such as delivering school meals or educational resources to students.
Shana, a bus driver who has worked for the Edmonds School District for almost 14 years, says that other districts throughout the state have used the reinstated transportation funding to maintain their drivers’ positions.
“At this point, we’re the only district in the state, that we can find, that has been eliminated and not furloughed. The only ones who have lost their benefits,” said Shana. “The Governor said the funding is there to keep us through January, Edmonds [School District] is saying they don’t have it. Where’s the money?”
According to Weinberg, the Edmonds School District faces a transportation funding deficit for the upcoming school year so while the state is allowing transportation funding for purposes outside of transporting students, adequate funding has not been provided to cover these costs. Thus, unless the level of transportation funding is revised for this school year, the district is unable to recall school bus drivers unless there is work for them to do transporting students.
“We are extremely disappointed we cannot support our dedicated and committed school bus drivers at this time,” said Weinberg. “No one involved in this decision is naive to its impact on our drivers. We are anxious to recall them and get them back to work supporting student learning. The district will continue to evaluate the situation and welcomes new funding and supportive guidance from the state.”
“We feel kind of let down and unappreciated,” expressed Walker. “We have a great relationship with our kids, we miss them, and we miss our jobs.”