DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. - On day two of a planned school bus driver sickout, it appeared more buses were on the roads Friday morning and more drivers showed up for work.
On Thursday, nearly 400 DeKalb County school bus drivers called out sick in protest of what they are calling low pay and poor benefits. The sickout left students waiting at bus stops all over the county and being late for school.
The district responded by firing seven suspected "sickout ringleaders."
A letter obtained by FOX 5 News from one of the drivers reportedly fired Thursday shared a photo of the letter the now former employee said they received from the school district:
"The District has received reliable information that you have personally encouraged and prompted the ‘sick-out’ strike by bus drivers and monitors employed by DeKalb County School District, planned for April 19, April 20, and April 23, 2018. Additionally, you failed to report to work today, despite having received no prior approved leave from your supervisor. As a public employee, it is unlawful for you to encourage, promote, or participate in strike activity. Moreover, this behavior is a serious dereliction of duty and a failure to meet the expectations the District has for its employees. Due to this behavior, I have elected to terminate your employment with the District, effective immediately.”
The letter, which is signed by DeKalb County Schools Superintendent Dr. Stephen Green, goes on to state the employee should not enter school property and needs to turn over any items owned by the district.
Dr. Green held a news conference earlier in the day regarding the district's bus drivers.
"This is not acceptable and it will not be tolerated," Dr. Green said. "Your actions will have consequences and there will be repercussions for putting our children in harm’s way."
Thursday morning marked the start of the planned sickout, due to dozens of bus drivers being upset over what they call low pay and poor benefits. Organizers are encouraging bus drivers to call out sick Thursday, Friday, and next Monday.
Dr. Green said the district is focussed on keeping its students safe, which is why they won't tolerate the sickout.
"For every day missed due to the sickout, I'm requiring a doctor's note to validate that absence," he said.
Green went on to commend the bus drivers who did show up for work Thursday morning, thanking them for stepping forward. He said some of those drivers showed up to work even after being threatened by their peers.
"You demonstrated that you felt it was a higher priority on the list of demands that you be here for our children," he said.
The news conference was held after a number of DeKalb County students arrived at school later than normal, and as the sick calls came in, the delays continued to grow.
In Tucker, 29 of 33 bus drivers ended up calling out sick. Students from an MLK High School bus stop told FOX 5's Portia Bruner their bus usually arrives at 7:15 a.m., and by 7:50 Thursday morning there was still no sign of their bus.
Some Salem Middle Schools students also told Bruner their bus arrived 25 minutes after the normal pick-up time.
Before the sickout began, supporters told FOX 5 they were hoping as many as 600 of the 840 drivers would stay home.
On Wednesday, school leaders said they were taking steps in preparation for the sickout and replacement drivers were called in, but the district warned parents about possible delays at the bus stop. Both robocalls and emails were sent to parents telling them about what is going on. Those notifications also said any students who were late to school won't be marked tardy.