Some Charles County Public School bus drivers staged a "sick out" to protest for better wages and benefits on Friday morning.
A group of 30 drivers gathered in the parking lot of the Bryans Road Shopping Center to make their feelings known two days after a meeting between contractors and county school system transportation officials.
“I don’t just drive them. I look at their personality, I look at their character,” Carlita Birth, a Waldorf resident and Charles bus driver for the past four years, said in an impassioned speech to gathered drivers.
“We are parents on that bus, we’re nurses on that bus, we’re teachers, we’re counselors, we’re protectors," Birth said. "Some kids on that bus are in abusive situations, they come to us.”
The drivers were gathered and demanding higher pay and lower health care costs, as well as increased safety measures for drivers.
161 bus routes were affected by the morning sickout according to a statement released by Charles County Public Schools.
While contractors and transportation staff were able to fill 20 routes, 141 were left unfulfilled, and the district warned that service disruptions would continue into the afternoon.
“Charles County Public Schools asks parents to have a plan for this afternoon, and for any time there may be a delay in bus service in case their child’s bus does not run,” the statement read.
The district had been monitoring for a possible demonstration by drivers since the prior week, when a social media post circulated stating that some drivers would call out on Friday.
On Thursday evening, school superintendent Maria Navarro sent out a letter to parents asking them to have backup travel plans in place, and directed residents to the transportation system’s twitter account, @CCPSBuses for updates on disruption.
A recorded message detailing potential bus issues was also left on the Charles County Public Schools 24-hour information line at 301-934-7410.
“We are committed to working with our bus contractors, drivers and attendants to address and resolve concerns,” Navarro said in last Friday’s statement. “It is my hope that we can resolve the concerns so students are impacted by the disruption as little as possible.”
During Friday’s protest, drivers also discussed a possible demonstration at the Jesse L. Starkey Administration Building on Monday morning.
Monday is also when the Charles County Board of Education is scheduled to host the county’s legislative delegation ahead of the start of the Maryland General Assembly in January.
The school system and its 26 bus contractors have met twice over the last two weeks to resolve driver issues, and another meeting is scheduled on Nov. 17.
Charles County is the latest district in the area to experience a sick out of its bus drivers.
Calvert County Public School drivers staged a sickout on Oct. 11 and Oct 12 outside of the school system’s administration building to protest for higher wages and better benefits.
St. Mary’s County has not had any disruptions caused by intentional driver actions as of this reporting.