Florida -Times union | Steve Patterson | September 14, 2020
Coronavirus exposure among employees of Duval County’s school bus system is fueling concerns about how to handle bus employees who become infected while working with schoolchildren.
A bus monitor, Shontel Adams, said she tested positive for the virus Thursday, after a parent of a child who rides her bus route volunteered that the child had been infected by a school employee.
Adams said she’s not working again until tests show she’s free of the virus, but her diagnosis raises questions affecting both bus employees and families who use school buses.
Drivers and monitors say missing work means simply not being paid, and they say the school bus company servicing most of Duval County doesn’t cover any costs for employees’ coronavirus testing.
Employees of that company, Student Transportation of America, are trying to negotiate steps to improve protection for drivers and help employees who get infected at work or are especially vulnerable because of underlying health problems. Driver concerns were also raised when the School Board approved a delayed back-to-school plan in July
Talks had been planned Friday but were postponed because of a separate pressing issue, said Ramon Turner, a steward with Teamsters Local 512, which represents Student Transportation of America employees.
The company signed an agreement with the union last month to provide employees with face masks and face shields for monitors. If requested, the company is supposed to provide gloves and hand sanitizer.
The agreement says any “high-touch area” will be wiped down regularly, but some drivers have said more protections are needed.
“If you’ve got kids jumping on and off the bus all day, everything is a high-touch area,” Turner said.
Faith Jackson, another union steward, said drivers are interested in adding Plexiglas shields. She said company employees do wipe down parts of the buses, but they’re using a cleaning solution mixed by people who don’t have training to understand whether the stuff they’ve mixed is sufficient.
Phone and email messages to the company’s Jacksonville manager asking about the company’s coronavirus policies and about Adams weren’t returned Monday.
Adams, a four-year employee, said her job as a monitor has transmission risks because it includes hands-on tasks like helping children with special needs get buckled into their seats. Some children don’t wear masks, she said, and some have masks but chew on them, making them sloppy.
The week she was tested, Adams said she repeatedly worked with about a dozen children who attend two schools, and she didn’t know whether she might have unknowingly passed on the virus to them. She wouldn’t say which schools the children attend.
Turner said he was also concerned that a number of employees approached Adams to console her after she learned her test results, physically contacted her, and then returned to work.
Asked Monday about the account that led Adams to get tested, school officials said they couldn’t immediately answer whether they knew of any cases where Duval school employees are thought to have spread the coronavirus to students.
A spokeswoman also couldn’t discuss Monday what sort of notification the school system requires from bus contractors when bus employees test positive for the virus.