ALBEMARLE — Bus drivers for Stanly County Schools decided to stage a walk-out on Monday, Nov. 1, taking many students, parents and administrators by surprise. The protest was meant as a call for higher wages amid growing inflation and mimicked similar bus-driver protests in other North Carolina districts, like Wake County.
The protestors called for raises for all classified workers in the district, not just bus drivers. Classified workers are those in support roles that don’t need to be certified by the state and include cafeteria workers, janitors, substitute teachers and bus drivers.
On social media, many parents reported that they were not given any warning that the bus drivers would be missing, and their children were left waiting at bus stops.
“Our kids are still standing at bus stops,” one mother fumed. “No phone call either!”
“Well no one has called and I hope kids are not marked absent nor late because of no bus drivers!” another mom said. “Stanly County ought to be shame not paying our bus drivers!”
But the missing drivers did show up on social media in videos and photos of their protest.
“We’re up here standing at the Stanly County Commons,” one protestor, Ashley Garner, said in a Facebook Live video. “Take a look at our signs. My sign says ‘Bus Drivers Matter too.’ And I guess y’all are experiencing that we matter. We need a raise. We need a raise. Some have been drivers for 20 years and are not at top pay. Stanly County Schools is the lowest paid district for the classified worker.”
She said she wished more people would support their cause by honking their horns, calling their school board members and by attending school board meetings to demand higher pay for classified workers.
“This is something we had to come out here and do. If y’all are inconvenienced, we are sorry for that,” Garner said to parents and others who were affected by the protest. “But we had to come out here and stand up for our rights.
Garner then handed it over to another protester, saying, “We got Kim right here, and she has led this thing up. Kim, what did you want to say?”
The second woman then spoke, saying, “I want to say this. It has been talked about since March per Gov. Cooper. Gov. Cooper promised us a pay raise and an across-the-board COVID hazard pay. Stanly County has not received either. We deserve more than what we get. Stanly County classified workers are always on the backburner. It is time for a change. It is time now. Y’all come support us.”
Kim later apologized, like Garner had, to any parents frustrated by the protest.
“I’m sorry about having to inconvenience parents. I’m sorry about the kids, because we do care about the kids. But you know what? We’ve got to take care of ourselves too.”
The crowd then started chanting, “We need a raise. We need a raise,” as the video ended.
Stanly County Schools has had a lot of difficulty this year hiring for classified roles, with Superintendent Jarrod Dennis telling SCJ in September, “We have a great need in really all of our classifieds — so bus drivers are a big need and so are child nutrition workers.”
SCJ reached out to members of the district school board to ask if part of the difficulty in hiring more classified workers was due to low pay, but did not receive any response by publishing deadline.
The following day, on Tuesday, Nov. 2, Albemarle Middle School posted on social media that “due to a shortage of bus drivers, buses 56, 85 and 67 will not be in operation today.” They recommended that parents “make appropriate arrangements to transport your student to and from school today.”