UPDATE: We've learned dozens of Roanoke County school bus drivers say they plan to retire.
This news comes after the Roanoke County School Board announced two weeks ago that it would be cutting benefits for drivers to save money.
The day after the announcement, 35 bus drivers called in sick after finishing their morning routes.
The school board hasn't confirmed the retirement.
It meets Wednesday night.
Roanoke County Public Schools are dismissed early Friday because a number of bus drivers called out sick.
The school bus drivers are protesting a reduction in benefits. Roanoke County called the bus drivers' actions a strike. About 40 bus drivers called out sick Friday. According to school spokesperson Chuck Lionberger, the school system has around 160 bus drivers.
Roanoke County accused the bus drivers who called out sick as using students as pawns. Because of the "sick out," Roanoke County Public Schools asked parents to pick up their children early from school Friday.
“We regret that some of our school bus drivers have made a poor decision to call in sick this afternoon after dropping off students this morning so that we are not able to run buses this afternoon," Roanoke County Superintendent Lorraine Lange wrote in a news release.
Almost all bus drivers are part-time employees. They previously received full-time benefits. Starting July 1, bus drivers will receive part-time benefits.
Last week, Roanoke County Schools decided not to outsource its transportation, cafeteria and health Services. The school system said it took action in order to stay within its budget.
Sources say the sick calls came in quickly Friday, and that it didn't take the school system very long to enact an early dismissal. According to at least two drivers who we spoke to, there were no discussions at a meeting Friday morning about plans for Monday.
The Roanoke County school system said it was appreciative of the 119 bus drivers who did not call in sick. The school system also says it can't talk about any potential disciplinary action.
We headed out to Burlington Elementary School in Roanoke County after the announcement and immediately saw parent after parent coming in and out of the school picking up their children. The early dismissal notification came out around 10:40 a.m. Friday morning.
"I was going to pick them up at the time that the school said to but I figured there would be a lot of traffic,” parent Phi Truong said.
Nikki Wirt: “They are not answering any questions at all. They are just saying it was a poor decision on the bus drivers and that they were notified within an hour ago.”
The Roanoke County School Board is holding a closed meeting at 3 p.m. Friday to discuss a personnel matter.
One Roanoke County teacher we talked to said "This is complete chaos at the schools."
Another teacher, Kari Sullivan, who is the lead kindergarten teacher at Bonsack Elementary School, said the following:
"As educators, it is our responsibility, first and foremost, to care for the safety and security of our students. Sometimes incidents occur which might disrupt our daily routine, but we have been trained to calmly take things in stride, as to not alarm the children. This afternoon, I have proudly watched my faculty and staff at Bonsack Elementary School communicate as a team, devise an efficient dismissal routine, and deliver the students to their designated locations with a smile on their face; reassuring the inquisitive children that everything was just fine. As a parent, my two daughters were picked up early from two other Roanoke County Schools in an orderly fashion. I feel confident that the faculty and staff of additional schools across Roanoke County carried themselves with the same amount of professionalism and poise."
Two local daycare centers, Honey Tree Learning Center and Country Bear Day School, have called staff in early to pick students up from school. Both said they felt like they could get the students without any disruption.
Here is the news release from Roanoke County Public Schools:
Dr. Lorraine Lange has released the following statement to parents this afternoon:
“We regret that some of our school bus drivers have made a poor decision to call in sick this afternoon after dropping off students this morning so that we are not able to run buses this afternoon.