A few delays and glitches aside, Beaufort County public school buses ran smoothly Monday, the first day of school and the district’s first go at completely managing its own transportation, staff said.
For the first time in 20 years, the district is running its own buses and hiring and training its own drivers, as opposed to contracting with Durham School Services or one of the other companies it previously used. On Monday evening, spokesman Jim Foster said the district received fewer complaints about busing than it has in recent years and didn’t experience any problems it wasn’t prepared for.
There were morning delays on one Hilton Head Island bus route, and afternoon delays countywide caused by slow boarding at the elementary schools, Foster said. With young students still learning which buses they’re on and where they’re parked, loading in the afternoons can take extra time, but that process should improve quickly, he said.
“Any time you have a system that’s challenged with transporting 12,000 kids, you’re going to experience some glitches. But our glitches today were all things that we can work through,” he said Monday. “We’re hoping that parents will be patient with us while we do that because the safety of our riders is the most important thing by far.”
Some parents’ experiences, though, were far from smooth.
One student at Hilton Head Island School for the Creative Arts was bused to a stop in Palmetto Hall instead of Little Island Preschool, like the parents had expected, Foster said. The school had no paperwork directing it to drop the child at day care, he said.
To change a child’s drop-off location, parents must fill out a bus transportation exception form, preferably three to five days before the change is needed. Parents should also speak to their school’s transportation administrator, usually an assistant principal, before sending their child to school with a permission slip to ride a different bus for a day.
The student in Palmetto Hall was left unattended, as the parents were not home, but Foster says the district only requires adult supervision at bus stops for Pre-K and kindergarten students, not elementary schoolers.
Also on Hilton Head, there were conflicting reports about a driver skipping a Sea Pines stop.
Resident Lisa Fantacone said a friend waited with her daughter at her Club Course Drive and Newhall Road stop on Monday and Tuesday, but the bus didn’t show. Needing to leave for work across the county, the friend dropped her daughter with Fantacone, who waited with the girl at another stop on the route with a pickup time of 6:24 a.m.
On Monday, the bus was 20 minutes late, Fantacone said. Foster attributed that delay to equipment issues. On Tuesday, it hadn’t come by 7:05 a.m. Fantacone says she drove the girl to school.
Fantacone was most frustrated by a conversation she had with the driver, who allegedly said she skipped the Club Course Drive stop because she couldn’t find it.
“Now my blood is boiling,” Fantacone wrote on Facebook on Tuesday morning. “Kids were all late yesterday.”
Foster said the driver told transportation officials she went to the first stop on both days and didn’t see anyone there, so she drove on. But to avoid any further problems, the driver will radio in to the district when she arrives there Wednesday.
“We’re puzzled by it. We really don’t understand how it’s possible to miss that stop,” said Foster, who could not confirm whether it happened. “Hopefully there’ll be a student there in the morning, and it won’t happen again.”