Hundreds of kids miss school as more than half of Lewis County bus drivers call in sick

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WESTON, W.Va. (WDTV) -- Widespread attendance shortages were noticeable in Lewis Couty school hallways and bus routes Tuesday.

Hundreds of Lewis County students were forced to stay home Tuesday after nearly 20 bus drivers missed work. (Photo: WDTV)

Roughly half of all students were forced to stay home as bus drivers called in sick.

19 bus drivers in total took the day off; only one driver didn't site illness as an issue.

Chris Derico, general supervisor of Lewis County Schools, said drivers started calling in sick Monday.

"When yesterday evening developed, we saw that several of them weren't going to be working today," Derico said.

That left 16 drivers and a handful of substitutes to cover the bus routes. In a statement, Lewis County Superintendent Robin Lewis said the district had a shortage of substitute bus drivers in addition to the ones who called out sick.

"Lewis Couty Schools will be operating on a normal schedule for Wednesday, January 22nd," Lewis said. "Providing a quality and sound education for all students of Lewis Couty remains our #1 priority."

Students whose bus didn’t run will receive an excused absence for the day.

Lewis County High School John Whiston reported more than 250 absences Tuesday, which was roughly 40% of the school's enrollment. Across the county, administrators say school officials reported absence rates ranging from 40-50%.

The absences come as drivers dispute with the board of education over their paychecks.

Drivers say they're not being paid fairly for their work. At the core of the dispute is the amount of hours they say they're contracted to work.

Joe White, the executive director of the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association, said the issue surrounds a policy that drivers say declares them 30-hour-per-week workers. He said the board contests that notion, saying drivers are scheduled for 30 hours per week but are 40-hour-per-week employees.

White said his office wasn't aware of any preplanned work action ahead of Tuesday's absences.

"Our main concern is that we take care of who we serve," White said. "We serve the children of West Virginia. WVSSPA does not want any student standing on the side of the road waiting for a school bus. That's not how we operate. That's not what we want. We do stand by our members and employees. If they're not paid accurately, we want to be paid accurately. That's something we've been working on."

Lewis County administrators said they're working to resolve the issues at hand and move forward in the days to come.

"The Lewis County administration, along with the Board of Education, continues to work through those issues," Derico said. "We currently have a committee that is meeting periodically to discuss those issues and finally make some recommendations to the administration here and eventually the board of education."

The Board of Education's next meeting is Monday, January 27 at 6 p.m. at the Administration Building.