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Hundreds of school bus drivers set to walk off the job amid looming vaccine deadline

Hundreds of bus drivers are set to walk off the job with a vaccine deadline looming.

HARTFORD, Conn — Connecticut is primed for a school transportation crisis. With a vaccine mandate looming, hundreds of bus drivers are threatening to walk off the job.

Their options are to get vaccinated or to get a COVID test weekly - that is what Gov. Ned Lamont has mandated through an executive order.

But some bus drivers don’t want to do either and they are willing to lose their jobs to keep it that way.

Nobody knows exactly how many bus drivers won’t show up for work on Monday but the estimates range from 100 to 400.

RELATED: Company offers $7,000 signing bonus for school bus drivers amid shortage in South Windsor

"School bus drivers are local employees. They are not state employees," said Max Reiss, the communications director for the governor's office.

While this is true, Lamont’s vaccine mandate for state workers also applies to bus drivers.

Jon Hipsher, the vice president of the Connecticut School Transportation Association said he is "very concerned" about what is going to happen on Monday morning.

The Connecticut School Transportation Association is asking the state government for help by either extending the vaccination deadline or exempting bus drivers from having to get vaccinated altogether.

In response, Reiss said they have no plans for an extension. "At this time, the vaccine mandate goes into effect on Monday."

Representing 60 bus companies, the Connecticut Association of School Transportation conducted a survey that found 1,558 bus drivers are unvaccinated; 1,331 of them have agreed to take a weekly COVID test while 227 have refused.

"A lot of drivers who have made up their mind that they don’t want to vaccinate and they don’t want to test. We are respectful of that," said Hipsher.

So the question becomes what’s plan-B? In Massachusetts, the National Guard is bringing kids to school. 

"That has been discussed as a potential kind of [the] last report," Reiss said.

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The state said they’ll offer support to local districts by leaning on Veyo, an existing state-contracted transportation company that currently helps transport older folks to medical appointments.

The Lamont administration is also working to build a mutual aid system that would allow drivers to work across districts.

"We know that kids being in school makes sense," added Reiss.

But getting them there won’t be easy. Parents are being advised to be on standby.

"I know it’s a hardship," said Fran Rabinowitz, the executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents. "To see if parents can help us alleviate this. I suppose we could go remote in an emergency. But I would hope that we don’t get to that point."

The Connecticut School Transportation Association argues that there is no evidence of COVID-19 transmission on school buses where masks are worn, windows are rolled down and extra cleaning procedures are in place.

The association argues that the vaccine mandate will exacerbate the already publicized national bus driver shortage.

RELATED: Education Sec. Cardona talks masks, vaccines during Waterbury school tour in CT homecoming

The weekly option of a COVID test in lieu of getting vaccinated only applies to current school bus drivers. All new bus drivers hired after Sept 27 will be required to be vaccinated, further shrinking an already small pool of applicants.

The state said there is all all-out hiring effort to attract new bus drivers. Private bus companies have offered incentives as high one-time $7,000 sign-on bonuses.

Additionally, multiple agencies are collaborating to expedite the bus driver certification and training process, which includes background checks, fingerprinting and confirmation of a commercial driver's license.

Matt Caron is a reporter at FOX61 News. He can be reached at mcaron@fox61.com. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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