School bus drivers upset over personal weight limits
HARDIN COUNTY, KY (WAVE) – Angela Fulkerson loves being a school bus driver. She sings to the students she hauls around in Hardin County.
After 14 years of no health, discipline or crash issues, she was shocked at her required physical after being ordered to take a sleep apnea test to keep her job.
“This year they say well because of my weight, your BMI is so high, I know I’m a big girl, that’s not a question, I know that,” Fulkerson said. “But when I fill out the survey, I don’t snore, I don’t sleep walk or any of those things with sleep apnea.”
She did not meet any of the survey criteria for sleep apnea but was ordered to be tested because she has a BMI above 40. The medical form she received claimed sleep disorders are associated with an increased risk of motor vehicle accidents.
At a time when school districts are struggling to come up with enough bus drivers, she doesn’t understand why it’s getting harder to keep her job.
“The hospital called right after they found out I was going to do this test and told me I had to pay $400 up front,” she said. “Well, that month my check was $700. When I started driving a bus 14 years ago, most women won’t tell you this, I weighed 355 pounds. Today I weigh 290 pounds. I feel like that they’re singling out hefty people.”
A spokeswoman for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet said, “KYTC does not specify the medical examination requirements for obtaining a Commercial Driver License. There are federal guidelines from the U.S. Department of Transportation covering the requirements.”
When I told the spokeswoman the DOT withdrew the rule instituting sleep apnea screening requirements in August because of logistical and financial concerns, she responded, “Even though it may have been dropped as a federal regulation, the final decision would still be based on the examiner’s findings. If the examiner refuses to complete a DOT physical without this additional testing, our hands are tied unfortunately.”
This is not an obscure case just affecting one bus driver in Hardin County. It’s becoming a big deal elsewhere. The head of the school bus driver’s union in Jefferson County just filed a class action grievance over forcing drivers to take sleep apnea tests.
“I understand for over the road truck drivers driving 14-15 hours a day, that makes sense,” Teamsters local 783 president John Stovall said. “But bus drivers or city workers who may be driving two hours at any one time? I think it’s an overkill.”
He said hundreds of school bus drivers are being crushed financially amid insurance and cost confusion.
“We’ve had anywhere from $200 to $4,000 for this sleep apnea test, doesn’t seem to be rhyme or reason on the cost,” Stovall said. “If you go to one agency, it’s this price, others, this price, all the way from mouthpieces costing $400 to whole machine and apparatus up to $6,000.”
Back in Hardin County, Fulkerson is volunteers in coat and food drives for kids, decorating cakes and selling Mary K on the side to make ends meet, and waiting for her sleep apnea test results.
As for the grievance filed in Jefferson County, a JCPS spokesman said they are in the process of finalizing an agreement with the union that would reimburse drivers for sleep study tests.