School Bus Routes Confound Parents

Christopher Peak Photo Abdullah finally hopped off a school shuttle and into his mother’s arms at 5:03 p.m. after sitting on the bus for nearly an hour and a half — a trek that his mother has repeatedly told the Board of Ed is too long for a 5-year-old with special needs.

The mom, Aisha Patel, has repeatedly requested a change in her nonverbal youngest son’s bus routes.

At first, she went to district headquarters before the school year started. Last week, she demanded answers at the Board of Education’s meeting.

A month into the school year the district has yet to adjust the boy’s schedule, leaving him to wait out a 3.5-hour daily round trip, from the family’s condo in Fair Haven Heights to Mauro-Sheridan Interdistrict Magnet School in Amity.

(Update: A few hours after this story was published, the district placed Patel’s son on a new bus route with a 4:15 p.m. drop-off.)

Patel’s difficulty with the bus schedule is an example of the many complaints about the school transportation system that crop up at the start of every school year. As the district has moved away from neighborhood schools to magnets that draw students from across the region, parents routinely run into problems with the buses: stops located too far from home, drivers showing up late, and no supervision onboard.

Parents are asking, “How many first days of school [has the district] had? How many years of school? Then how come this is the same issue every year?” said Nijija-Ife Waters, the president of the Citywide Parent Team (CPT), who had her own problems last year with a bus dropping her son off tardy at school on a near-daily basis.

CPT’s most recent meeting focused on this topic, when nearly 50 moms and dads showed up with transportation concerns. A district employee in charge of busing was in attendance, along with the superintendent. The employee said she resolved all the complaints, except for Patel’s, within less than a week. Parents trying to follow-up with the district, though, said they struggled to get an employee on the phone, either because the line is busy or because no one picks up, according to Waters.

“There’s no accountability in this district. And because there’s no accountability, who cares about fixing something? What are the repercussions when this happens? Who goes back and apologizes to the parents? Who even follows it through?“ Waters said. “You see, with this parent, they should say, ‘Hey, listen, we’re working on this problem. It’s taking a little more time than what we had expected, but please bear with us.’ They don’t, because you don’t have a person in the district” conducting oversight.

“The customer service, across the board, sucks, to be honest with you,” Waters said.

District officials said that they’re charged with a daunting task. Every day, school buses transport 20,000 kids across “hundreds of routes and thousands of miles” branching out into dozens of suburban towns, said Will Clark, the Board of Education’s chief operating officer. That’s all while needing to maintain time-efficient and cost-efficient routes, he said.

At this week’s board meeting, Superintendent Reggie Mayo said the district has made nearly 5,000 changes this year already, largely because of parents who don’t turn their information in on time.

While he said he couldn’t comment on individual cases, Clark wrote in an email, “We work very hard internally and with our contractor as well as with schools and parents to seeks appropriate solutions.”

“As individual issues arise we do our best to work on appropriate resolutions where possible,” Clark stated.

In the meantime, Patel’s son is still scheduled for pick-up at 7:30 a.m., ahead of Mauro-Sheridan’s 9:15 a.m. start; and drop-off at 5:15 p.m. (after the school day’s 3:30 p.m. end. Patel said she worries about what might happen if Abdullah has an accident on the long commute. Because of his special needs, he finished potty-training over the summer, and he can’t speak.

So far, there haven’t been any such incidents, she said. The long commute is so tiring for the youngster that, on most days, he falls asleep either on the ride or on the couch once he’s home, Patel said. “It’s too much for a 5 year old.”

Liking the principal and the school’s STEM-focused curriculum, the family doesn’t want to change schools, said Patel.

Abdullah’s father has begun dropping his son off by car in the morning on the way to his job as a baked goods distributor. But he can’t pick him up in the afternoon, leaving the bus as the only way to get home.

One solution Patel has offered is putting her youngest on the quicker bus that Abdullah’s three older brothers all take. That one arrives at 8:35 a.m. and returns at 4:30 p.m. Patel said she’d feel that her son was “safer” on that bus, knowing that his older siblings would “watch out for him.”

Generally, that’s how the district likes to map out the routes as well. But special circumstances, like special education requirements or behavioral issues, may require “unique planning” that separates siblings, Clark said.

According to Patel, the district promised her that it would have a solution sometime this week. She said she won’t be surprised if nothing changes.

“It’s going to be a month on Oct. 6,” this Friday, since she first lodged her concerns, Patel said. “It’s frustrating.”

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posted by: Fairhavener on October 4, 2017  3:55pm

Get rids of the buses (mostly a waste of $) and focus on neighborhood schools.

Since I know some will bring up the lost bus driver jobs, just retrain those folks to work in the schools—they already supervise children for like 2+ hours a day by themselves while avoiding heavy traffic so I am sure they’ll do great.

posted by: eliantonio on October 4, 2017  4:50pm

All this snake oil bs about the miracle of charter schools needs to be snuffed now.
20,000 kids in a relatively small city being bussed to school is nonsense.
One of the main advantages of our high density clustered neighborhoods is thst kids walk to school and therefore there are less busses blowing diesel smoke around, and blocking traffic which leads to more waste of gas and time.
The magnet schools don’t work, and the the reason people move to a neighborhood in the real world is because they like the elementary schools.
New haven is going to wake up as Hartford one day.  One day very soon.
And when the real estate is going for a third of what it is today yale will buy it up, take it off the tax base and put up a $500 million school of viticulture or astronomy or the institute for advanced frenology .
Good luck, my house is on the market.

posted by: Bill Saunders on October 5, 2017  1:16am

So, let’s start talking in real terms here…..

How much does it cost to bus 20,000 students willy nilly across the City…..

Bus Driver Cost.
Bus Maintanence Cost.
Bus Storage Cost.
Fuel Costs
Student Lottery Costs.
Administrative Costs.
Administrative Costs.
Administrative Costs.

ultimately, some lawsuit costs, once the fog all clears…...

Is there at least a line item for this????????? 
Obfuscation at it’s best…....

posted by: JCFremont on October 5, 2017  7:55am

@Fairhavener and Elaintonio. Interesting, eliminate the buses, focus on community schools. Well that would bring us back full circle to a system before The United States Supreme Court 1968 school desegregation cases. Even before the proliferation of magnet schools in New Haven living near a school did not guarantee your child would be going to that school. I would be very interested in how the “communities” structure the curriculum and the application levels at private schools.

posted by: Fairhavener on October 5, 2017  9:43am

JCFremont wrote: “Well that would bring us back full circle to a system before The United States Supreme Court 1968 school desegregation cases.”

Though I fully agree that these ghosts of the past are a concern. However, the current system is not working any better. To be clear:

1. I am suggesting that if we fund the schools properly to start that would help greatly.
2. If we were perhaps to take heavy vehicular transportation out of the budget that could help fund the schools better.
3. You could also train potential former bus drivers to be stewards at the schools and by way increasing the teacher/para-professional to student ratio.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on October 5, 2017  10:54am

As JCFremont alludes, the magnet school system was implemented to address segregated schools. The solution was seen as busing kids around the district in order to integrate schools. This definitely comes at enormous cost and it ignores a deeper problem, which is neighborhood segregation. I think that a return to a system of primarily neighborhood-based schools would be great, but it cannot come before we begin to address the underlying issue of segregated neighborhoods. I think the ways to address this involve making investments in regional multimodal infrastructure combined with zoning reform to allow and promote mixed-use and mixed-income development throughout the region - opening up areas traditionally reserved as upper middle class bedroom communities, commercial strips, and office parks to a variety of people.

However, if the recent changes to Connecticut’s 8-30g Affordable Housing Statute and the implementation of GPS tracking for CTransit are any indication of where Connecticut is headed in regards to zoning reform and transportation investments, I don’t know that neighborhood segregation will be seriously addressed any time soon. Also, keep in mind that the City depends on State funding for its magnet schools and if they reverted back to neighborhood-based schools, that might create a gap in funding.

posted by: Realmom21 on October 5, 2017  10:59am

ok here it is they dont give 2 cents. 12 kids on a schooll bus in 90 degree heat broke down on the side of the road not once or twice or even three times but too many to count. Then how about an hour late picking kids up from school with no call to parents or even the school they are picking the kids up from. A pregnant ( very pregnant driver on a broke down bus. Or arriving to your drop off an hour and half after your regularly scheduled time with no communication from the school because everyone vacates 25 minutes after the students are dismissed and then BOE doesn’t answer calls and bus company doesn’t answer calls so parents are running frantic to find their children.. and if one more person says speak to TEDDY who is in charge of transportation I will scream because leaving messages for a return call is even more . Excuses build bridges to no where and monuments to nothing ness. They are not non perishable goods, they are not cattle. They are our children and the nonsense is absurd. It would be abusive to leave a child in a car in the heat for an hour why is it ok fro the bus company. Why is it ok to let 6 yo and 7 yo stand waiting for a bus that doesn’t show or shows forty minutes late. If a parent left their child for that amount of time all of the administrators would be mandated to call social services. but the bus company gets away with it regularly. Broken equipment, ill trained staff, lack of consideration and so much more

posted by: witchininthekitchen on October 5, 2017  1:04pm

This is nothing new.

I went through all of the same when my children were young and going to school. Buses that never showed up. Buses always late. Tardy to school every single day. And not just my children, more than one bus late every day. End of the day was no different. Waiting 90 minutes on a corner for the bus because if you weren’t there to meet your children, they would take them back to school. So, you waited. And waited. One day I had a kindergarten age child on the bus until after 5pm because the driver was “lost.” Phone calls that were never returned. And so on.

And this goes back to the 90s.

posted by: Jill_the_Pill on October 5, 2017  4:11pm

Wow, it’s quite a leap from “our bus system is a disaster” to “let’s get rid of magnet schools.” 

I don’t think eliantonio is aware of the difference between magnet and charter schools.

Families make a choice to have their child attend a magnet or neighborhood school, and sometimes that choice can involve trade-offs among: educational quality, area of student interest, school culture, and convenience.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on October 5, 2017  8:20pm

For anyone interested, here is a map I created a year or so ago showing NHPS with a neighborhood preference:
https://newhavenurbanism.files.wordpress.com/2017/10/draft_map-of-nhps-neighborhood-preference.jpg

posted by: I Know on October 6, 2017  7:30am

I am truly baffled by all of this and some of these comments. Where else can you go and get free buses to transport students even to their door steps? NHPS is transporting almost 20, 000 students daily based on what I heard at the PTO meeting when Teddy spoke. Many children in other countries walk for miles to get to school, or if their parents are affluent, they drive them and pick them up. Parents need to appreciate the help the system is giving. Nothing is perfect, but appreciate that the transportation department is trying. Teddy Bara is not a bus driver. These parents choose to send their children to magnet schools. Can the system afford to just have one bus for one child?  These folks fight about food, transportation, day care etc that they are all getting free. My gosh, be thankful for what you have now. There may be coming a time when you will be bereft of all these free things.

posted by: GroveStreet on October 6, 2017  9:23am

For those concerned with desegregation, let’s admit that, for the most part, white people fled the city to avoid it. How else does one explain a city where a third of the population is white, which is triple the percentage of white students in the public school system?

And there is even segregation going on… inside the schools themselves. Go take a look at Cross someday.

posted by: Realmom21 on October 7, 2017  8:19am

@ I KNOW..how insulting. you act as though they are giving us something! excuse me if I wasnt paying over 30k taxes in this city I might feel it was a great deal,reality is our resources arn’t being used efficiently or effectively. Why would they use full size bus to transport 12 children um dont know was TEDDY’s answer. Ok why do you not chart routes based upon most direct instead of the scenic down yonder system ? i know one child being on a bus at 635 for an 8 am start and only 8 years old.alternative was a school directly across the street from home that is and was FAILING.
Why in this modern day of technology would it be so inconsiderate to let the school know hey we are running late bringing children home.. you know not everyone is ok with not knowing where their children are an hour after they were supposed to have been safely transported from school to their bus stops and we arent all sitting home backing cookies looking out the window to see little jonny myriam and daisy walking up the street. Ok and so the list goes yes we have magnet schools, charter schools and neighborhood schools because again the system was ineffective at providing ALL children the same opportunity so those AWESOME REAL PARENTS cried foul and wanted everyone’s children mixed together so the little non tan kids would get the same as the little yellow brown and mixed ones and vice versa. Dont give credit that wow they are transporting 20 thousand children their budget would have you thinking there were closer to 100k children. vehicles are archaic in poor condition. Children are un supervised ask the 100 or so parents whose children are assaulted on the school bus how wonderful it is. Lest we remember first student is not a non profit and has no interest in changing their profit margins for the betterment of our children but as a monopoly I guess you think we should accept what because they are doing such a great job