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Posted September 19, 2012 | comments 2 Comments

Superintendent responds to bus concerns

By Kim Walter -- kwalter@nvdaily.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.

2 Comments | Leave a comment

    The bus overcrowding has been going on for at least as long as my kids have been in ShenCo schools-12 years. I am not envious of the county to try to find solutions for this. The obvious, easy answer is to add more buses, but sadly, this is not realistic as the School Board has to juggle a budget that could certainly use more funding (not just for transportation, but also educational), but that would mean increase in taxes or taking money from other programs or services. If I had a solution to the problem, I'd gladly shout it from the roof (or Facebook), but I just don't have the time and resources to try to rearrange a county budget.
    So far, in my experience, the buses are more crowded and chaotic at the beginning of the school year, then some adjustments are made and there is less crowding. Luckily, my kids have not experienced the standing in the asiles.
    To do what we can as a family, I encourage my kids to let me know the issues on their bus and I remind them that they can help the problems by keeping their book bags on the floor, sit forward with their feet on the floor and stay quiet. It doesn't help overcrowding, but it does keep them in a safer position if there was an accident.
    When it comes to protecting our kids, parents are very passionate, and I am thankful for the parents being concerned for the children instead of turning a blind eye, but remember, we must work together for a solution....attending School Board meetings and giving imput, volunteering at the schools and talking to our kids daily about things going on at school and on the buses will only help improve our kids' school experiences. Unfortunately, the schools cannot possibly be all things to all kids and that's where us, as parents need to fill in the gaps.

    I would just like to say in reference to the comment from Mr Rowland in the Northern VA Daily, since he quoted a comment I made. Just because there are not children standing today on our bus does not mean that issue is not happening on any other bus. We have 3-4 high school children to a seat which is ridiculous. He can try to justify this and say there is not a problem, well there is and I dont think that you should have 30 days to fix this problem. You are in charge every year and if this is a common problem then maybe changes need to be made. Many things can happen in a 30 day period and even if we leave 1/2 mile away from the school a lot can happen in less than a mile. I will definitely be at your meeting on Oct. 11 and you can say it will be fixed by then but words do not matter its the actions taken. I am very upset that this is being taken so lightly.

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