Miami-Dade school bus drivers mourn loss of colleague who contracted COVID-19, want more done to keep them safe

Friends and family members mourned the loss of a Miami-Dade County Public Schools bus driver who died after contracting COVID-19.

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – Friends and family members are mourning the loss of a Miami-Dade County Public Schools bus driver who died after contracting COVID-19.

Outside a bus terminal Tuesday morning, friends of MDCPS bus driver Donna Blatch offered a prayer to her grieving children.

“You know we are out here today lord God, lord God this Covid is real,” friend Letty McGhee said in prayer. “We ask them to touch heal and deliver them lord God, lord God give them peace right now

Donnna’s daughter Kanika Bradshaw said through tears that she already misses the simple moments, like talking to her mom.

“She was a good friend, she was a good mother, she was outspoken,” said Bradshaw. “Her just calling me, just calling me.”

Miami-Dade schools bus driver Donna Blatche and her three children, Marcqise, Shatoria and Kanika. (WPLG)

Donna’s colleagues are also frontline workers during this ongoing pandemic, and they explained that bus drivers continue to struggle with the fear of exposure.

“The kids are not keeping their mask on their faces, kids are not social distancing on the bus [and] we are in a closed confined space,” said Mairetha Milton. “They should treat us with some dignity. We are asking to be respected the way the teachers are being respected.

“We are frontline workers. We can’t stay home and drive a bus from a computer.”

Between students who refuse to wear their masks and a breakdown in communication on whether any students sent home to quarantine were also on their routes, bus drivers’ concerns are growing.

Bradshaw said her mom often expressed concern that she was not being notified when kids who had been on her bus route were sent home to quarantine.

She believes this is crucial information so bus drivers can make life-critical decisions like whether to quarantine themselves or get tested.

“I know she inquired about the protocols and why kids were missing over a certain period of time,” Bradshaw said, adding that with other family members working as bus drivers, she feels like her mom’s legacy will be fighting for them to be safe and respected, fighting for their dignity.

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“I lost my best friend to this covid,” Milton said. “How many more Donna Blatch’s is it going to be before it happens to one of us? We’re scared; we have underlying conditions, we have families with underlying conditions that we may take this Covid home to our families, and they need to take into consideration when they talk about opening these schools, they need to take our lives in consideration. The teachers can work and do that from home, we can’t do that. So we are asking for our community, pastors, the governor, the mayor to help us. Make it safer for us and these kids on these Dade County school buses. We have not got any recognition for what we are doing as bus drivers and we are afraid of losing our lives.”

In a statement, the school district said Donna worked with them for nearly 18 years and that they did not locate any positive COVID-19 cases involving students on her bus route.

The district also said when aware of a positive test, they do work to notify drivers if the student was on their route, adding there is ample PPE (personal protective equipment) and that drivers just need to ask for more if they run out.

McGhee however believes more can be done to keep drivers safe and to show recognition for their essential work.

“Recognize and understand this is real, someone lost their life,” she said. “We want to be recognized that we are frontline workers too.”

Donna’s death comes as the United States just marked a grim milestone of 500,000 lives lost to COVID-19.

As a caregiver, one thing bus drivers said you can do to help them stay safe is stress the life-critical importance of students wearing their masks and practicing social distancing while on the school bus to children, reminding them we are all in this together.

According to information posted on the Federal Education Association (FEA) Safe Schools Report, at least four active school bus drivers have died from COVID-19 in the state of Florida since Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran’s July 6 reopening order.

To see their names and view the FEA’s COVID-19 related data, click here.

A statement was sent to Local 10 late Tuesday from Phyllis Leflore, president of the AFSCME Local 1184. It read:

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of Ms. Blatch, an incredibly dedicated bus driver and veteran Union member. We are keeping her family, friends, and colleagues in our prayers during this difficult time. Ms. Blatch is the third loss from COVID 19 we have had within our Union in just the two weeks.

AFSCME Local 1184 is seeking a higher level of communication between M-DCPS and our Transportation Department to ensure that we are notified of all COVID 19 cases as they are reported in the District so that we can take appropriate measures to protect our members, students, and communities they serve. It is essential that we have a clear path of communication within our District in order to save lives.”

About the Author:

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."