Chesterfield school leaders discuss rising COVID cases, school bus drivers issues during board meeting

Published: Sep. 14, 2021 at 7:09 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 15, 2021 at 5:34 AM EDT
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CHESTERFIELD, Va. (WWBT) - Chesterfield School leaders met Tuesday night to discuss a rise in COVID-19 cases, hiring school bus drivers and possible new construction on two Chesterfield schools.

Since Aug. 23, the district has reported 627 cases of COVID-19.

Superintendent Dr. Merv Daugherty said the schools are working closely with health officials, sending regular messages to families about possible exposure points throughout the district.

Daugherty says the county is looking into options for testing and vaccination, but hiring qualified people to manage those efforts has proven difficult.

“Even to do weekly testing in our schools would require an additional nurse in each of our schools,” Daugherty said. “There aren’t enough people in this system to hire, and that’s coming from everyone around.”

As the school system looks into additional safety measures, it received push back from parents like Anne Taytus who doesn’t want to mask her children.

“We are ostracized the second we speak out,” Taytus said.

Taytus says her child was sent home due to exposure at school and has been forced to quarantine. She says the district should provide more teaching options for quarantined students.

“They sent my child home, a healthy child,” Taytus said. “I do not want to mask my child because I believe it’s pointless.”

Chesterfield has faced serious delays in picking up and dropping off children because of a lack of drivers. To combat this, officials have offered a higher salary and monetary bonuses to those who sign up.

During the meeting, Daugherty said that the county received more than 350 applications in the weeks following the announcement of a pay increase. According to CCPS, more than 33 drivers are now in the three-week training program. Officials are hopeful these new additions will help with the delays.

But Kim Powell, a veteran bus driver of 16-years, believes money isn’t the only issue.

”I don’t think in the beginning it was a money issue, we made pretty good money. The thing about it is that now we have way too many responsibilities on us,“ Powell said ”We’re not just driving the bus, we’re doing all this administrative work; we’re doing all this paperwork, seating charts, things like that.

Powell says the extra responsibilities have recently caused an additional two bus drivers, including one 20-year veteran, to put in their two weeks.

“The late buses, the being honestly worked beyond our capacity to be safe sometimes, and it seems like nobody is listening to us,” Powell said.

The school board also took major steps towards is finalizing plans to re-build two new middle schools. Tomahawk and Falling Creek Middle schools are both facing overcapacity issues.

One would replace Falling Creek with a bigger, more modern building, while the other would be built on county-owned property in Upper Magnolia Green, near Route 360.

The school board voted unanimously on two separate memos to set aside $130 million to rebuild both schools, plus an additional $500,000 to design the schools.

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