Drivers rally over changes to Holyoke's school bus service

(Western Mass News photo)

School bus drivers in Holyoke rallied Monday against changes expected this fall when it comes to transporting certain students to class.

Over a dozen people, including school bus drivers and other union members, voiced their opposition on Monday to a decision by the Holyoke Public School system to change the mode of transportation for some students.

"None of us are doing this job because we hate kids. We do it because we love the kids. We want to see that they're safe," said Pamela Murphy with Durham School Services.

The changes include switching from mini-buses for diverse learning students, that qualify, to 7D vans, which are equipped with appropriate lights, signage, and other safety measures the state requires and that other communities like Springfield and West Springfield already have in place.

Still, current drivers said that these 7D operators may not be as trained as your average bus driver.

"A CDL driver has four exams that they have to take at the registry, hours of training, have to learn pre-tripping, post-tripping, all the parts of the bus. It's more in depth than a 7D driver," Murphy added.

The union has also told Western Mass News this will be the end of monitors on the larger buses.

However, the school district refutes that, releasing a statement that reads in part: "We will not be eliminating bus monitors. All of our vans and students that require bus monitors will continue to have bus monitors."

Another concern from the union is the safety of a van compared to a massive bus.

"Buses are designed to handle impacts and a van is just your typical household everyday vehicle. Our buses are designed to handle where they'll buckle up in the center if they have a side impact," Murphy explained.

Holyoke Public Schools, however, said that these vans are safe and unlike some school buses actually have seat belts to keep kids in place.

Job security was also a question many at the rally had.

"There's no guarantee that our members are going to have a chance to have those jobs and even if they do have those jobs, they're probably going to pay 40 to 50 percent less than what we have right now," said Jeff Jones with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.

Holyoke schools said though that that shouldn't be a concern. However, their statement also read: "if routing is consistent with this year, we will be adding ten more driver jobs and ten more bus monitor jobs. There will be more opportunities available as a result of this model."

Copyright 2018 Western Mass News (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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