New Hanover parents demand answers to school bus issues

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John Rutter received a panicked text from his son, a sixth-grader, shortly after taking the bus home on his first day at Trask Middle School.

Rutter’s son had never taken the bus before. His family had spent the past few days trying to get route information. But on the first day of school, they were still confused about which bus he would take and which route he would take to get home.

Rutter said his son, who they eventually learned had not yet been allowed to ride the bus and should not have been allowed to ride a school bus at all that day, ended up on a cross-town bus to Hoggard High School.

Rutter said he quickly told his son to get off the bus as soon as he arrived in Hoggard. His wife then rushed to pick up their son from high school.

“He was already nervous because it’s a new school and riding the bus was a new experience,” Rutter said. “Fortunately for us, he has a cell phone, and as soon as he left the scene, he contacted me frantically.”

Rutter is one of many parents who say getting students to and from school is far from easy. Besides finding the right bus, Rutter said his son has also been unable to find seats sometimes because the buses are so crowded. Her son’s bus route also keeps changing.

School bus problems

Rutter shared his frustrations about transportation at a school board meeting in September and was greeted with a round of applause. He’s not the only one concerned about the busing at schools in New Hanover County — other parents have taken to emails and social media, demanding answers and resolutions.

Parents reported that students consistently came to school late and missed class periods.

Clarissa Staggs told StarNews that her son was late for chemistry class with honors at Laney High School during the first hour of school because of a late bus. The lesson starts around 8:30 a.m., and his bus didn’t pick him up until around 9 a.m.

Staggs goes to Southport for work, so his mother takes her son to school every morning. It’s not a long-term solution, however, she said. Staggs also began picking up her daughter in the afternoons from Holly Shelter Middle School because the bus didn’t drop her off until around 6 p.m., although school leaves at 3:55 p.m.

“The return time was 4:15 p.m., and when I got home at 5:15 p.m., she still wasn’t home,” Staggs said of her daughter’s first day of school. “So I of course called the school in absolute panic because I didn’t know where my child was.”

Liz Soffera, a mother of students at Masonboro Elementary School and Roland-Grise Middle School, said her sons have always taken the bus. This year, however, she decided to pick them up on her own. She said her middle school son didn’t come home until around 5 p.m. each day, taking away more than an hour of time for homework and extracurricular activities.

“These are our children,” she said. “It’s their quality of life, their safety.”

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Addressing the issue at the September school board meeting, Superintendent Charles Foust said the district’s transportation department is serving about 1,000 more students than last year. It carries about 13,000 students each day on 93 buses, Foust said, and the district continues to receive requests for additional stops and new passengers.

Deputy Superintendent of Operations Eddie Anderson said that was back to pre-COVID numbers, but with far fewer bus drivers to keep up with demand.

There are over 200 routes operating every morning and afternoon. Foust said often a bus travels two separate routes, picking up one group of students for the first and then returning to school for a second group of students.

This resulted in 44 reported late buses to start the 2022-23 school year, Foust said. That dropped to 27 late buses reported at the end of the first week, which Foust said is not unusual at the start of a school year.

At the end of the 2021-2022 school year, the district averaged just one late bus per day, he added.

Heavy congestion in some car parks due to parents returning can also create problems for buses, Foust said. Many buses have students signed up for a route who don’t actually ride the bus.

Proposed resolutions

Anderson told the school board that the start of this school year has been smoother than last year, thanks in large part to the “amazing bus drivers we have.” He said at the start of the 2021-22 school year, an average of 10 to 12 bus drivers were off work each day. This year, it’s an average of two a day.

“I just want to start by thanking our bus drivers and transportation staff,” he said. “I know you’ve received emails of complaints, of concerns, but I hope you’ve also received emails thanking them and expressing their appreciation.”

This week, the Department of Transportation shared in a statement on the district’s Facebook page that it is working to remove students from bus assignments if they don’t consistently ride the bus three or more times a week.

In theory, this would solve some of the problems faced by the district – according to the statement, there are far more students registered to ride the buses than there are actually using bus transport every day.

But parents said they thought it would make the problem worse: many said their pupils weren’t taking the bus three times a week at the moment because otherwise they would be late for school or arrive home from school. hours after school ends.

Staggs said she learned only a day after the district released the plan that her son had been removed from his morning bus to Laney and her daughter from her afternoon bus from Holly Shelter. She said she was frustrated because she was always planning to get her children on the bus, but she would also not be content to see them arrive at school or home an hour late.

“I’ve indicated that until they figure this out and get times a bit more reasonable, I don’t see how they expect people to send their child on a bus if they’re going to miss most of the time. their first period,” she said.

Soffera said that because she has flexibility in her job, she picks up her students from school to save them the hours of waiting on the bus. She said she recently learned that her children would be taken off the bus route because of it.

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This has only added to the frustration, she says, as she cannot pick up her children from school every day for the rest of the year. She said that eventually they will have to take the bus home.

For Rutter, he and his wife make it work, but he feels for parents in Wilmington who don’t have the flexibility in their jobs and daily lives to wait in line every day. He said he wants more funds to go towards raising the salaries of bus drivers, to ensure the district has enough quality transportation staff to get students to school in a timely manner. each day.

“The answer is that they probably should have applied for funding to hire drivers at a better rate than they are doing right now,” Rutter said. tattered.”

Contact journalist Sydney Hoover at [email protected] or on Twitter @sydneymhoover. Join the Education Issues in Southeastern North Carolina Facebook group to stay up to date on education news.

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