A state board on Wednesday approved an emergency plan designed to keep school buses running in case unionized drivers strike.
The S.C. Board of Education unanimously approved a measure to help school districts that contract with Durham School Services, which includes Beaufort County, deal with a strike. Durham will be allowed to bring in out-of-state drivers who don't have state-required certifications.
State Education Superintendent Mick Zais urged Teamsters not to strike, saying those affected will be parents who may have no other way to get their children to school.
"We must always put the interests of students first, not the interests of adults in the system," he said in prepared remarks.
Durham and the Teamsters union met Tuesday for negotiations in Charleston for the Charleston County School District, but no resolution was reached.
Unionized drivers in both Charleston County and Dorchester 2 districts have voted to go on strike if they cannot reach a deal on drivers' pay and benefits by next week. Beaufort County drivers have not yet voted to authorize a strike.
Durham and the union are scheduled to meet Friday to negotiate employment contracts for Beaufort County drivers, a Durham spokeswoman said.
Attempts to reach L.D. Fletcher, president of Teamsters Local 509, which represents drivers in Charleston, Dorchester and Beaufort counties, were unsuccessful Wednesday.
About half of Beaufort County's 200 bus drivers are Teamsters, according to school district spokesman Jim Foster.
"Durham School Services has assured us that they have (a) contingency plan in place to make certain that students are transported to and from school in the event driver strikes occur," a note sent home Wednesday with Beaufort County school students reads.
If no agreement is reached, a strike would start Monday, Zais said.
The state board's action waives a requirement that out-of-state bus drivers have a state Department of Education Bus Driver Certificate. The 90-day exemption applies only to bus drivers replacing striking Durham School Services drivers in Beaufort County, Charleston and Dorchester 2 school districts. After 90 days, only those drivers who have a state bus driver certificate will be authorized to drive.
Out-of-state drivers will still be required to have a valid license to drive a school bus from another state, as well as a commercial driver's license, current medical card, copy of their driving record and recent criminal background check, proof of participation in random drug testing, and at least five years of driving experience, with two years as a school bus driver.
Beaufort County, Charleston County and Dorchester 2 are among only three statewide that outsource bus responsibilities. Drivers in those districts are the only ones who can strike, because they work for a private company. Others are public employees barred from collective bargaining or striking.
Gazette staff writer Tom Barton and The Associated Press contributed to this report.