Connecticut schools brace for potential bus driver shortage amid COVID vaccine mandate

Connecticut coronavirus update

Monday, September 27, 2021
Connecticut school bus driver shortage feared as vax mandate takes effect
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A school bus driver shortage is feared in Connecticut as a COVID vaccine mandate took effect on Monday.

CONNECTICUT -- Thousands of Connecticut state employees, K-12 teachers, school bus drivers and day care workers were urged to get vaccinated for COVID-19 before Gov. Ned Lamont's executive orders requiring vaccinations for certain employees took effect on Monday.

State employees were reminded to upload their vaccination status, applicable weekly testing results or medical and religious exemption requests by midnight on Sunday to a third-party app.

"Employees who do not complete the process will be subject to unpaid leave and possible separation from state service," Department of Administrative Services Commissioner Josh Geballe wrote in an email sent to affected state employees on Thursday.

Geballe noted that it could take several days next week to manually input submissions and "fully assess individual compliance" and any resulting actions. "As such," he wrote, "all employees should report to work on Monday as usual and continue to report normally until and unless notified otherwise."

State officials are uncertain how many affected workers may not comply with the order.

Lamont's administration had reached a formal agreement with the state employee unions that represent mostly executive branch workers. For example, unvaccinated workers' state health insurance will now cover the cost of the first four COVID tests at locations not providing free testing.

Also, unvaccinated state employees will be allowed to use sick time, personal leave, vacation time or other accruals to cover the work time lost in order to get tested.

But Geballe warned on Thursday last week during a news briefing with Lamont that workers will have to eventually pay for these tests.

"There's a very simple solution to this. Just get vaccinated," he said.

Fran Rabinowitz, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, said her members believe most of their teachers and staff will be vaccinated or tested in time.

"For the most part, what superintendents are telling me, they will be compliant with the testing by midnight on the 26th. It may take a few days ... to get the testing processed, but they will be tested or vaccinated," said Rabinowitz, who has heard of "isolated incidents" of staff who refuse to be tested or vaccinated, and subsequently won't be allowed on school property.

Meanwhile, Rabinowitz said she's heard from school bus companies that as many as 300 bus drivers may refuse to get vaccinated and tested, and therefore won't be allowed to work. She said that will only exacerbate an existing shortage of bus drivers.

"I hope that the bus drivers reconsider and either get tested or vaccinated," she said.

Lamont said that his administration has been working to "accelerate getting additional bus drivers in place" in order to bring students to school next week in case large numbers of school bus drivers decide not to get required vaccinations or testing.

The governor's orders also require employees at long-term care facilities, including nursing homes and assisted living facilities, to get their first shot of a two-dose vaccine and have an appointment for a second vaccine dose by Sept. 27. Their employers face a possible $20,000-a-day fine for any violations.

Monday's deadline comes several days before Lamont's executive authority is set to expire on Sept. 30. The Democratic-controlled General Assembly is meeting next week to consider extending those powers until February.

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