Ypsilanti parents experience busing ‘nightmares’ during…

Ypsilanti parents experience busing ‘nightmares’ during…

YPSILANTI, MI – One afternoon of not knowing what happened to her daughter was all Breanna Riley needed to take matters into her own hands.

Riley waited until 5 p.m. for 5-year-old Makenna to be dropped off at home after the first day of school at Perry Early Learning Center on Tuesday, Sept. 3. She began to panic, she said, when she didn’t get a call back from the school with her daughter’s status and took off for Ypsilanti Community Schools’ transportation office.

Riley said transportation workers told her they thought her daughter might be at an address Riley lived at two years ago. It took until 6:45 p.m. for Makenna to be dropped off and, when they were reunited, her daughter had to go to the bathroom badly and was “speechless and in shock,” Riley said.

“They literally lost my child for two hours,” Riley said, clutching Makenna after she got out of school Thursday, Sept. 5. “They had no idea where she was. I couldn’t get no one to answer the phone, no one would call me back. It was horrible. The communications was non-existent.”

Riley has since enrolled Makenna at Ford Early Learning Center, claiming Perry was responsible for not having the correct address on file for her daughter. She and her sister-in-law Tiffany Fletcher are now driving their children to and from school.

Riley is among numerous parents venting frustration with Ypsilanti schools’ transportation during the first few days of school. They’ve reported things like buses never arriving, not knowing where their children were taken and children arriving a couple of hours after schedule.

The complaints come as Ypsilanti Community Schools transitioned back to operating its transportation department in-house.

The district switched from Durham Transportation in May after transportation consultants from National Bus determined it could provide more reliable, efficient services in-house, saving a projected $1.24 million.

However, National Bus had not provided bus routes to parents until the district posted them on its website on Aug. 28.

“As with any startup, we are addressing all issues that are communicated to our schools,” Ypsilanti Superintendent Alena Zachery-Ross said. “This includes route adjustments or changing route times based on the student’s needs.”

Ypsilanti schools also acknowledged “transportation concerns” in a Facebook post late Tuesday, promising to adjust and update routes daily. It also provided five phone numbers for parents to call with concerns after many of them complained nobody in transportation could be reached.

‘It was a nightmare’

A number of parents expressed complaints that their children, who had previously been taken to daycare from elementary schools, were no longer being transported there by district buses.

Parent Nicole Cummings said she ran out of work around 4:45 p.m. Tuesday when she called her daycare center to learn her daughter hadn’t been taken there from Perry Early Learning Center.

Cummings said her 6-year-old daughter had taken the bus from home to daycare before school and then back to daycare after school the past couple of years without issue. That didn’t happen Tuesday. Instead, she learned the daycare owner had driven to her house in the morning and picked up her daughter, instead of the school bus.

When Cummings said she called the daycare later that afternoon to make sure her daughter was there, they informed her the bus had not dropped her daughter off after school.

“I was stuck in 5 o’clock traffic calling 911,” Cummings said. “It was the scariest thing I’ve ever dealt with in my life. The 911 dispatch tried to call the bus garage and the school, but nobody would answer. It was a nightmare.”

Cummings said she went to Perry, where she flagged down a bus and police officer. She said drivers were able to deduce her daughter had been dropped off at Cummings’ house, despite previously making plans to have her taken to daycare.

A similar situation unfolded for Chelsea Wright, who was alarmed to find out her 7-year-old son wasn’t at Bottles-N-Backpacks daycare, where he was transported last year from Erickson Elementary School, when she called the daycare around 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Wright called Erickson Principal Kelly Mickel, and said she was told her son and another student were on a bus somewhere but they couldn’t identify where or when they were expected back at Erickson.

Wright said she frantically arrived at Erickson around 5:30 p.m. but waited another hour until the bus arrived. The district informed her students were no longer being picked up from the daycare center, she said.

“The most frustrating thing was not knowing where my child was and not knowing exactly where the bus was located at any time and finding out they’re not willing to transport him to daycare now,” Wright said.

The district’s solution to picking up her son from daycare, Wright said, is to have him dropped off at Estabrook Elementary School, where he would walk to Bottles-N-Backpacks more than a mile away.

What is being done

Ypsilanti Community Schools' transition back to providing transportation in-house got off to a rocky start during the first week of schools, with numerous parents complaining about their children not being picked up or dropped off on time or in the right location.

Martin Slagter | The Ann Arbor News

Ypsilanti Community Schools’ transition back to providing transportation in-house got off to a rocky start during the first week of schools, with numerous parents complaining about their children not being picked up or dropped off on time or in the right location.

Bus routers are working with families to meet their needs “within the guidelines of the transportation walk zones that were established,” Zachery-Ross said.

“The district is continuing to make adjustments based on the needs of the students and the routes,” Zachery-Ross said. “Each route is handled differently due to the nature of the needs.”

National Bus, which advised Ypsilanti Schools in hiring staff, establishing routes and reconfiguring school start times, was not made available for comment for this story.

The transportation consultant service’s leadership, however, received attention two years ago in Indiana when three school districts provided similar complaints about it helping rehaul transportation services, only to leave it with nightmares on the first days of school.

Justin Wilczynski, the head of National Bus, led True Consultant Services in Indiana, which oversaw widespread busing issues at Muncie Community Schools, which had to cancel the first two days of school due to problems with route coordination.

The district is trying to provide improved communication via social media, its website and “school media blasts” to families, Zachery-Ross said.

She expects the district to receive new technology in the next few weeks that will allow parents to track the buses and allow students to scan on and off the bus with real-time notifications.

Transportation Services Cartu Jonathan

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