By Kim Walter -- email@example.com
After parents of some Shenandoah County Public Schools' students voiced concerns about school bus conditions, Superintendent B. Keith Rowland said he understands, but stresses that the school system "needs time to work through it."
"It's not unusual at the beginning of the school year to have issues that we have to work through," he said Wednesday. "But we have no students standing on the buses and we do not have any buses operating over the capacity that is established by their manufacturer."
Mt. Jackson resident Brandi Dysart started a Facebook group called "Change for Shenandoah County School Transportation," which had 495 members as of Wednesday evening. Multiple group members from all over the county have posted stories about their children's experiences on the school system's buses, and many allude to overcrowding.
One post says a student witnessed "kids sitting on laps and 3 or 4 kids to a seat."
Rowland said that because it is allowed to sit three kids to a seat, "it can look overcrowded, but buses are designed for that."
He said the issue is not a new one for the school system, which uses a 30-day "buffer period" to figure out the best bus and the best stop for each student.
Changes to the Virginia Department of Education's Regulations Governing Pupil Transportation were approved July 27. They include the deletion of "During the first 30 instructional days of the school year standees may be permitted for short distances in the aisle back of the driver's seat," under the seating policy. Instead, "Pupils may not be permitted to stand except under unforeseen temporary emergency conditions and for short distances as identified [in policy] by the local school board," takes its place.
The new regulations, however, do not go into effect until Sept. 28. The entire document can be found at www.doe.virginia.gov/support/transportation/regulations/index.shtml.
A memo was sent out to all county bus drivers Wednesday morning concerning the "Protocol for Student Transportation." It outlined the actions that should be taken if a driver observes students standing, four students sitting in one seat or one student sitting on another's lap.
The memo directs drivers to "find a safe place to park and secure your bus" and, underlined, it says, "Do not continue on with your route."
Drivers are then to call the bus garage and inform a dispatcher about the situation. If no one answers, six other numbers are listed for the bus driver to try.
"I do understand the concerns, but we're going to try everything we can to avoid putting our children at risk ... we're concerned about these things too," Rowland said. We're going to move some stops and change students to other buses ... it's a work in progress."
Rowland added that the school system plans to have the details and issues worked out before the Oct. 11 school board meeting.