Eric Griffith has been driving a school bus in Jacksonville, Fla., for 20 of his 55 years. When Duval County schools closed last spring, he and his fellow drivers in Teamsters Local 512 delivered lunches and educational supplies to students until schools reopened last fall. K-12 schools in Florida were required to offer in-person instruction, but until this month, teachers and staff weren’t eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines. Griffith’s interview with Education Week has been edited for length and clarity.
I feel a sense of gratefulness [that I’m eligible for a vaccine now]. But I still feel at some level that that shouldn’t have been a difficult call in the first place. Because this is where the child’s school day starts, at the bus stop. They’re waiting for me as a driver to come and pick them up. They’re looking for me. So when I open that door, I’d like to feel as confident as I can that I’m not going to give them something, that they’re not going to give me anything, either.
It was exciting for the kids, and it was heartwarming for me [when drivers were delivering lunches and supplies]. A lot of these kids were starting to feel displaced, not being in their normal routine of getting up and coming to the bus and getting on the bus from the school. And by this time, I’m wearing a mask, most of us are masked up. So they’re initially not even recognizing [us], and we’re using different vehicles.
It was great for me, seeing their faces kind of light up when they realize oh, that’s not my bus, oh, but hey, that’s my bus driver!
We were given reduced schedules, reduced hours, which obviously had a huge impact on our wages, on my earning potential for this year that we’ve been in this COVID pandemic. The other thing was making sure that our work conditions are safe. And that was a challenge. You have drivers who are wearing both caps. They’re concerned about their own kids, [and] they’re concerned about the kids that they provide services to.
It’s been, at times, nerve racking, because of so much different information. Is there a vaccine, when is the vaccine coming, what’s the effectiveness of it, who should get it, all those types of things. You’re getting all this information, some of it quite mixed. And as a parent, that’s been very difficult to deal with. Because obviously I want my child [who has asthma] to be safe. And given her health issues, that’s always something I’m going to take into consideration.
This has been a situation where things have changed rapidly. And even now, they’re changing, because now we’re talking about how variants could affect children and young people. So all of these things are constantly going through my mind as a parent, and as a bus driver, because my child rides the school bus.
I’m concerned about getting it. I worry about what kind of impact it would have on my family. And God forbid, if I contracted it, and was no longer around, then my 14-year-old daughter would have to finish her young life without her father around.
That’s something that happened to me at a very young age, because my father had heart problems. So I know what it’s like to not have a parent that you can come to when you have issues or questions. And that’s something I don’t want for my daughter. And there’s the rest of my family.
My mother passed away in this process, in January. It was primarily due to COVID. It’s something that you read about, you see on the news. You hear the voices, the naysayers around you, you hear people, ‘Oh, it’s not real,’ you know, even some of the people that you come into contact with during the work day. But when it takes someone from you, it’s a different thing. It changes everything for you.
A version of this article appeared in the March 24, 2021 edition of Education Week as Driving the School Bus, Waiting to Be Vaccinated