School Climate & Safety Audio

Driving the School Bus, Waiting for a Vaccine

By Catherine Gewertz — March 19, 2021 3 min read
Eric Griffith, 55, poses for a portrait in front of a school bus in Jacksonville, Fla. on Thursday, March 18, 2021. Griffith, who has been a school bus driver for 20 years, delivered meals and educational materials during the first couple months of the coronavirus pandemic when schools shifted to remote learning.

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.

Eric Griffith, 55, poses for a portrait in front of a school bus in Jacksonville, Fla. on Thursday, March 18, 2021. Griffith, who has been a school bus driver for 20 years, delivered meals and educational materials during the first couple months of the coronavirus pandemic when schools shifted to remote learning.

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

Events

School & District Management Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table With Education Week: What Did We Learn About Schooling Models This Year?
After a year of living with the pandemic, what schooling models might we turn to as we look ahead to improve the student learning experience? Could year-round schooling be one of them? What about online
School & District Management Webinar What's Ahead for Hybrid Learning: Putting Best Practices in Motion
It’s safe to say hybrid learning—a mix of in-person and remote instruction that evolved quickly during the pandemic—is probably here to stay in K-12 education to some extent. That is the case even though increasing
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Mathematics Webinar
Building Equitable Systems: Moving Math From Gatekeeper to Opportunity Gateway
The importance of disrupting traditional American math practices and adopting high-quality math curriculum continues to be essential for changing the trajectory of historically under-resourced schools. Building systems around high-quality math curriculum also is necessary to
Content provided by Partnership for L.A. Schools

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Climate & Safety What the Research Says Teens Are Driving COVID-19 Surges. Can Schools Counteract That?
Teenagers and young adults are now driving COVID-19 cases in some states, and experts say schools may be critical in preventing outbreaks.
4 min read
BRIC ARCHIVE
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
School Climate & Safety Opinion Empowering Teachers and Parents to Speak Up on School Safety
Rick Hess shares practical suggestions from Max Eden on how to ensure school discipline reforms are indeed keeping students and staff safe.
3 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
School Climate & Safety When Toxic Positivity Seeps Into Schools, Here's What Educators Can Do
Papering over legitimate, negative feelings with phrases like "look on the bright side" can be harmful for teachers and students.
6 min read
Image shows the Mr. Yuck emoji with his tongue out in response to bubbles of positive sayings all around him.
Gina Tomko/Education Week + Ingram Publishing/Getty
School Climate & Safety Opinion Teaching's 'New Normal'? There's Nothing Normal About the Constant Threat of Death
As the bizarre becomes ordinary, don't forget what's at stake for America's teachers during the COVID-19 pandemic, writes Justin Minkel.
4 min read
BRIC ARCHIVE
Gremlin/E+