Busing Chaos Reigns on First Day of School

September 13, 2013
 
by Lynne Ober

First day of school typically brings some angst, missed busses and late busses – most often among the kindergarten and first grade students.  This year was no different, but it was compounded by the change in school configuration.

Parents questioned whether the district had paid for a “trial run” of all bus routes by bus drivers and busses prior to the start of school and the answer to that question is yes.  Superintendent Bryan Lane added that the bus company did not necessarily do the trial run at the same time as the normal bus runs, but that the trial run was completed.

However, bus drivers do occasionally get sick and on the first day of school there were four qualified, but substitute drivers on the Hudson bus schedule.  While substitutes do get the same training and have the same certification as regular drivers, they are not as familiar with the bus routes.

Business Administrator Karen Burnell said that the earliest pickup time for an elementary student is 7:58 a.m. with the goal of having no one on the bus longer than 45 minutes.

Lane said that all students should be home by 4 p.m.  That didn’t happen on the first day.  “The routes are scheduled to be no more than 45 minutes long with the majority of them being about 30 to 35 minutes.”

Parents contacted the Hudson~Litchfield News with concerns.  One parent, who did not wish to be identified, said, “The town of Hudson restructured all of their elementary schools over this past summer even though the residents were overwhelming opposed to this idea due to the stress placed on students and teachers, the expense and a multitude of other organizational factors.  One of the major concerns centered around the length of time students would need to spend traveling all around town to go to their new ‘centralized’ school.  Today was the first day and about 25 percent of the students spent over two hours on the bus – arriving home well past 5 p.m.”

Lane had sent an e-mail to parents notifying them of the above situation.  He wrote, “While the first day of school went well in the classrooms the afternoon bus runs for the elementary schools did not.  About 75 percent of the students arrived home in a reasonable time frame; the other 25 percent were on buses for far too long with the last one being dropped off just after 5 p.m.  This is unacceptable to all of us.  I could tell you what and why things happened but that would not change the facts … “

Other parents questioned why a bus ride that was 15 minutes long last school year now takes up to 30 to 35 minutes.

Burnell said that because some of the school busses were so late that some parents called the Hudson Police Department to check on their children while others contacted the school district.  “With each phone call, I would call the bus coordinator; she would call the bus driver on the driver’s cell phone and check on the location of the bus, report to me and I’d tell the parents,” said Burnell.  She also said that Hudson Police checked with her as well.

There were a variety of missteps.  In one case a young student got on the right bus to go home and was taken home, but was supposed to have gotten on the bus that would make a drop-off at the student’s day care provider.  That child was brought back to the school and Lane accompanied the student to the day care provider.

In another case the student was dropped off at the wrong corner.  Burnell said this was a failure of procedure.  “Bus drivers are not supposed to drop off kindergarten or first grade students without a parent there and no parent was there.  However, we quickly found the student, who was close to the SAU office and both the superintendent and Burnell reached the student and accompanied him to the correct location.”

On Friday, Lane highlighted a number of issues that led to the first week’s incidents.  These were:

  • “Lack of familiarity with some new routes
  • New patterns of traffic – this is because all busses now to each elementary school
  • There were four temporary drivers for routes
  • Late registrations of students
  • Changes in requests where students would be dropped off
  • If high school and middle school buses run late they create issues for the elementary schools
  • Some routes that are inefficient
  • Ridership changes”
Burnell said that as students registered, information was sent to the bus company.  Lane agreed that late registrations resulted in some unfortunate issues, but that steps were being taken to ensure that all busses arrived on time, were not overcrowded and that students did not have to spend an unduly long amount of time on a bus.

When the HLN checked with parents at two schools who were waiting for students, it was discovered that after the first day a number of parents decided not to rely on the bus and to drive and pickup students – at least for a while.  This resulted in additional traffic at the schools and bus traffic is definitely an issue because now 25 buses visit each and every school.  In previous years, a bus would deliver students to one school, but with grades being consolidated at schools instead of following the neighborhood school model, each bus must visit each school.  Burnell said that she believed that two buses did not have kindergarten or first grade students and so did not stop at every school.

Administrators and parents shared concerns about the large number of buses visiting each elementary school, but no one wished to be quoted.  None of the schools is designed with a pickup and drop-off area large enough to accommodate that number of buses and then the traffic gets that much worse when large numbers of parents drive individual students.

While School Board Chairman Laura Bisson said that the improvement in busing between Tuesday and Wednesday was awesome, she did not comment on the fact that a much larger number of parents provided individual transportation except to note that on Wednesday busses might have been late because some children had already boarded a bus by the time a parent showed up to pick the child up and there was a delay while children were then removed from the bus and taken to the waiting parent.

Bisson, Burnell and Lane all agreed that at the end of the week there were four bus routes that were still in trouble.  Lane and Burnell said that corrective steps were being taken.  Lane said, “Steps were being taken to make routes more efficient by eliminating overlaps.”

Burnell agreed and said that some bus stops might be covered by a different bus than the one originally scheduled.  Both noted that with late registrations, there was a need to equalize the load on each bus in order to ensure an efficient operation.

Some parents have complained about the length of time that students are riding the busses now that the neighborhood school model is no longer used.  Lane acknowledged this was a concern and he could understand parental complaints.  “We are now looking at flipping routes, so that they [bus drivers] drop off [students] in the reverse order that they pick up.”

Other parents are concerned about the location of the bus stop, which is a yearly issue.  Every year bus stops are reviewed based upon these complaints and parents are provided feedback.  “I’m visiting each of these bus stops to check them out,” said Lane.  Lane also said that as both students and bus drivers become more familiar with the new traffic patterns and routes, everyone will be happier.