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School Bus Driver Shortage Has Kids Getting To School Late; Companies Point To COVID Vaccine Requirements

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Bus drivers are doubling and tripling their routes, and kids are getting to school an hour late – that is the reality caused by a bus driver shortage that's showing no signs of letting up.

As CBS 2's Tim McNicholas reported, companies are stretched thin – and some worry their jobs could soon get even harder.

Monika Flakes starts her school bus with a goal – to get the kids to school and home and on time.

But as she explained after her morning routes, reaching that goal isn't easy.

"It's been very hectic this year," she said. "Sometimes I just feel like my best is not good enough, because they're still late. And I'm not taking about 10 or 15 minutes late – they're like hours late for school."

Flakes is a driver for Illinois Central School Bus.

"I got drivers doing three, four routes at a time," said Cynthia Sosnowski, the company's contract manager. "Because of the shortage ... there could be kids waiting at a school for an hour, hour and a half; getting to school an hour late. So we really need the drivers."

Chicago Public Schools say about 10 percent of drivers quit in the week leading up to the school year. Illinois Central is just one CPS bus vendor, and they say they lost about 15% of their drivers.

The reason, the company says, is a vaccine requirement from CPS.

"If you ask them, it was the mandate and not wanting to be forced to get a vaccine," Sosnowski said.

Now, bus vendors across the state face another looming challenge. All school personnel in Illinois—drivers included—must be vaccinated by Sept. 19 or agree to weekly COVID testing.

A suburban bus company tells CBS 2 they're worried that deadline could cause more drivers to quit – and they're not the only ones worried.

"Any of the vendors that are having to get these kids to school, it could have a huge impact," Sosnowski said.

"My second school, I'm usually almost an hour late," added Flakes.

Flakes said she now gets home around 8:30 p.m. and arrives at work around 5 a.m. That is after getting her own kids ready for their day.

"So we have parents going off on us, because their kids are not getting to school on time, or they're not getting brought home on time," Flakes said.

It is exhausting. But she keeps going, for the kids.

Illinois Central is hoping to hire about 21 drivers as soon as possible. They're planning a hiring event at their South Side offices near 26th Street and Western Avenue on Oct. 2, from 10 a.m. to noon.

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