Tacoma Schools: Prepare now if bus driver sick out continues

TACOMA, Wash. – It’s happened again in the South Sound – dozens of school bus drivers called out sick Tuesday, creating chaos for parents and school officials trying to get their special needs students to public schools on time.

It’s like déjà vu for many families – the same problem happened Monday– and some parents believe it’s a way for school bus drivers to protest their salaries.

Q13 News been looking into this story since Monday and confronted the bus driver’s union to see if the sick out is actually a bargaining tactic.

“From my information it’s because the bus drivers want more money,” said TPS parent Don Wilson.

The school bus actually showed up to Wilson’s house early Tuesday morning.

“Grab your backpack - bus showed up on time again,” he told his kids.

That meant his 16-year-old son with autism would make it to class – except with a little bit of drama.

“If people are going to keep calling out sick every day with no notice, it’s not affecting everyday children it’s affecting special needs children,” said Wilson.

Both Monday and Tuesday, the district said dozens of its special needs bus drivers called out sick –the voicemail parents got early Tuesday morning told parents to be patient or plan for alternate transport.

“The bus drivers who are working will be doubling up routes to get as many of the students as possible to school, however, expect the buses will arrive late for pickup. If you can, please provide your own transportation to and from school,” the voicemail said.

“The drivers do have sick days,” Dan Voelpel with Tacoma Public Schools told Q13 News. “If they choose to use them at this point there is no plan for any disciplinary action.”

The district says it’s doing what it can to get as many busses rolling in the mornings – and suggests the sick outs might have something to do with the bus drivers' union.

“You’re going to have to get that from the union leadership,” Voelpel said. “We have a collective bargaining agreement in place through August 2020.”

Q13 News took a camera to the union office in Auburn to get answers, and while nobody would agree to an on-camera interview, Dane Rawlins with the union shared a statement:

“(We have) become aware of numerous absences in the transportation department at Tacoma Schools.  The union has not coordinated, nor condones a work stoppage in any way shape or form.  The union is committed to supporting students safe transport to and from school.”

Meanwhile parents just want some normalcy back in their lives.

“My son is low functioning non-verbal,” Wilson said. “I just got him from his mother in September. Structure and routine is something we’re working on to cut down on meltdowns.”

Tacoma Schools says if the sick out happens again Wednesday it can only serve the students it can with the bus drivers who actually show up to work.

Parents should get another phone call in the morning if there’s a problem.