The transportation troubles that have plagued the Buffalo Public Schools this year have included a rash of “bad drops” – young children being dropped off at the designated bus stop without a parent or adult waiting for them.
Superintendent Kriner Cash raised concern that there have been at least “12 to 14” of these incidents since the start of the school year.
First Student, the district’s transportation provider, has promised to tighten its protocol.
“We are speaking to all the drivers and telling them, ‘When in doubt, don’t do it,’ ” said Sean McCabe, area general manager for First Student. “Drive them around, we’ll keep them safe and worry about the schedule later. So we are addressing the issue of judgement, common sense and making the right decisions.”
First Student has been dealing with an industry-wide shortage of bus drivers. The number of substitutes and new drivers – 107 since July – seem to be a contributing factor in at least some of the bad drops.
Pre-K and kindergarten students must be met at the bus stop by an adult, which is indicated on the driver’s routing sheet, according to district transportation officials. If no one is there to meet them, the driver is required to keep the child on the bus and circle back to the stop after dropping off the other students. If there is still no one when the bus returns, the driver should radio the bus terminal to contact the parent.
While for the most part it is not a problem, it's something that needs to be reiterated to the bus drivers and aides, particularly at stops where there are multiple students getting off, said Cheryl Kennedy, assistant director of transportation for the Buffalo Public Schools.
“I will say, some of our drivers get complacent,” Kennedy said. “They get distracted, they’re looking at other traffic and it happens, so we have to tighten the reins.”
The school district plans to send a letter to parents reminding them of the requirements for young children at the bus stop. Parents also can request the same arrangement for students in grades 1 to 8.
McCabe, Kennedy and Al Diamico, director of district transportation, met with the School Board last week after the problem caught the attention of Board President Barbara A. Seals Nevergold.
Her 7-year-old granddaughter was one of those bad drops a few weeks ago.
On the day of the incident, Nevergold said, the family didn’t know after-school activities had been canceled and that the little girl took the bus instead of being picked up at school. It was dusk and blustery when she was let off at her stop without an adult present, Nevergold said. A neighbor noticed her crying and was able to connect her with her family, still frantic over the child's whereabouts.
“The fact you had adults leave a child unattended in the dark in bad weather was really concerning to me,” Nevergold said. “I think a lot of it has to do with the lack of drivers and the inexperience of the drivers working with this population.”
Nevergold said the board will continue to monitor the situation.
First Student transports more than 30,000 Buffalo students daily to 115 public and private schools on 641 yellow buses. The company had a shortage of drivers to start the school year, leading to numerous complaints about children arriving at school and home late.
As of last week, First Student had enough bus drivers to cover the morning routes, but in the afternoon was still experiencing a shortage of between 15 to 25 drivers, which is about the number of drivers who call in each day.