OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. — Outside of the Osceola County Schools transportation department, a sign hangs on the fence, saying “Desperately seeking bus drivers.”

The message sums up how the COVID-19 pandemic has made a shortage of school bus drivers worse, and students end up paying the price — waiting longer and longer for that ride to school.

What You Need To Know

  • The COVID pandemic has worsened the school bus driver shortage

  • Osceola County is down 36 drivers, more when some call in sick

  • The district has 243 bus routes that need to be filled regularly

  • A job fair Tuesday is designed to add more drivers and attendants

“It’s really a hardship on not only the driver, but the students,” said Carla Geigel, a bus driver for the Osceola County school district for nine years. 

Geigel found herself looking forward to the time spent with the students she picks up after her own five children grew up and moved out of the house. 

But the job itself, Geigel said, has gotten a lot tougher because of staffing shortages.

“They not only have to fill their routes, they have to double- and sometimes triple-back to pick up these students that were left at school or even at their bus stop,” Geigel said. 

The district shuttles 26,000 students to and from class daily, and 243 bus routes need to be filled constantly. The district is down 36 drivers, often even more as drivers are out sick or away from the job because of COVID-19. That leaves the district juggling to get students to school safely. 

“Every day our team is scrambling to formulate a solution that probably is only good for that day, and then tomorrow, it starts all over again,” said Randy Wheeler, the Osceola schools district’s assistant director of school bus transportation. 

That means combining routes, and the more drivers who are out, the longer students wait, Wheeler said. 

“We can’t really forecast how late each individual bus route will be,” Wheeler said. “So I know it’s maddening to the parents to hear their kids say, ‘Hey I’ve been on the side of the road for an hour, and there’s still no bus’. We get that.”

Geigel said she understands, too.

"It’s been so sad to sometimes see as we’re driving to work, a bunch of students out there at their bus stops waiting for their bus to come pick them up," Geigel said. "It’s really heart-wrenching for me."

Geigel said she is eager to see others in the community join her in getting behind one of those big yellow buses out on the road.

“If I can do it, you can do it as well,” Geigel said. 

From 8 a.m. until noon Tuesday, the Osceola district will hold a job fair to try to hire more bus drivers and attendants at the transportation department office at 401 Simpson Road in Kissimmee.  Visit the district’s website for more information.