Jul. 30—CLARK COUNTY — The beginning of classes Wednesday at Greater Clark County Schools has involved more challenges than usual adjusting to a number of transportation changes.
But, the district is working to resolve those issues as it develops new routes in Jeffersonville and promises next week will be smoother.
Many parents have expressed frustrations on social media regarding bus assignments, issues with the transportation app, crowded buses and long wait times for buses.
The district sent a statement from Greater Clark Chief Operating Officer Chad Schenck Thursday morning to parents addressing various obstacles it is facing with transportation this week, saying the district expects "all these transportation issues to be resolved by the beginning of next week."
"We know you trust us with the safety and well-being of your children, and we consider that a privilege," Schenck said in the statement. "We fully recognize the frustration that changes made to transportation routes has caused some parents in our communities. For this we sincerely apologize."
Among the concerns expressed by parents to the News and Tribune were that their children have experienced overcrowding on buses, including kids seated three to a seat, as well as buses not arriving on time. Parents have also reported confusion regarding students being unassigned for buses.
Schenck said "this year's launch has had a few more obstacles than most with route changes, construction areas and enrollment modifications."
The district changed routes for students at Jeffersonville High School, Parkview Middle School and River Valley Middle School this school year. Greater Clark moved the schools from a three-tiered bus route to two-tiered bus routes, meaning high school and middle school students are riding together.
Schenck said two new routes will be developed by Monday to avoid crowded buses for the two Jeffersonville middle schools and Jeffersonville High School. He said these kind of issues were not surprising for the first week of school.
"When you move from a three-tier to a two-tier, you expect to have some of these challenges," he said.
He said overflow buses have been brought in when buses become too full.
Jeffersonville resident Sasha Smith said she has three kids in Greater Clark, including a student at Parkview Middle School and two students at Northaven Elementary School. She said she understands issues with buses being later than usual during the first day and first week of school but found the transportation issues this week "appalling."
She said her daughter, the middle school student, reported overcrowding on the bus both Wednesday and Thursday, including students sitting on each others' laps on Thursday afternoon. Smith said her daughter also experienced students standing in the aisle and told her that it was uncomfortably hot on the bus because it was so crowded.
She said she also saw kids sitting three to a seat on the elementary bus Thursday morning.
"First off, that is a hazard, but we also still have COVID happening," Smith said. "Even with a mask mandate on the bus, you would still think that they would practice some type of social distancing."
Smith said her middle schooler was picked up by the bus in the morning but could not ride the bus home from school Wednesday since she was not registered in the system and could not remember her bus number. She said she picked up her daughter after being contacted.
Schenck told the News and Tribune Thursday that it was inaccurate that kids were forced to stand in aisles or sit on each others' laps and said that Greater Clark "is not turning any kid away" from transportation, saying kids are directed to overflow buses if they were not sure what bus they need to be on.
Smith said she had trouble registering her children for buses. She said she put in a transportation request about three weeks ago, but this Monday she noticed that she was not registered. She said she submitted another request Monday and another one Wednesday night specifying this was her third request.
Schenck said there have been situations of students being three to a seat for high school and middle school buses since the start of school. He said three students per seat is allowed on school buses, but the district does not plan to have students seated three to a seat moving forward, saying buses should be two to a seat by Monday.
He said early Thursday afternoon only three buses out of 60 had faced situations where overflow buses were needed due to the volume of kids transported.
Katherine Norris is the mother of two students at Riverside Elementary School in Jeffersonville. Her youngest is a 4-year-old special education student.
The main issue she has faced is getting her youngest son to school on time. The 4-year-old rides a different bus from her oldest, and she said she has had to drive him to school the past two mornings because the bus was late.
The bus was about 40 minutes late Wednesday morning, and it arrived after she had already returned home after taking her 4-year-old to school. It was supposed to be there at 8:55 a.m. but didn't arrive until around 9:35 a.m. Norris said the bus driver told her she was she was "over-scheduled" trying to make it to different schools.
She had trouble getting in contact with the transportation department on Wednesday but was able to reach a staff member Thursday regarding the issues, she said.
She decided to take the 4-year-old to school again Thursday morning when the bus did not arrive on time. He rode home on the bus both days, and her other son did not have the same issues with his bus being late, Norris said.
"My kid loves school and loves the bus, and I don't want this to make him hate it," Norris said. "He cried today and yesterday that he didn't get to ride the bus."
Norris said she was reassured to see a statement and automated phone call from Schenck Thursday morning addressing the transportation issues.
"I was told they may be working throughout the weekend taking care of stuff," she said. "Maybe the second week will be smoother."
Schenck said the district has seen a large volume of transportation requests this year, including more than 2,000 requests before school started.
He said early Thursday afternoon the district reached about 2,500 transportation requests at only two days in, noting the district is transporting more kids this year due to fewer students enrolled in the virtual program.
"Some [requests] were sent in a week ago or three weeks ago, and the biggest influx came in right at the start of school," he said. "That does put a heavy burden on the individual staff members."
He said many parents were unaware they needed to place a transportation request for all changes, including changes in addresses.
"Every year this results in students not knowing what buses they need to ride," Schenck said. "While this process is communicated out through the enrollment process, School Messenger, and the website, we are reviewing the communication steps for next year to ensure more students and parents know this should be reviewed and completed each year if applicable."
The district continues to receive transportation requests, he said, and many staff members at Jeffersonville High School, River Valley Middle School and Parkview Middle School work on bus assignments. Schenck said staff is working long hours to address the issues.
He noted overflow issues should be solved once students are accurately assigned.
In response to reports of full or overcrowded buses, Schenck broke down some of the obstacles the district faced Wednesday, including the need for overflow buses due to three middle school/high school buses being full.
"Our overflow buses went to these buses and finished two/three stops left," he said in the statement regarding the first day of school. "The buses do not operate overloaded. They report being full and we send overflow buses."
"We appreciate parents being patient during this process," Schenck said in the statement. "While the logistics are still being worked through for maximum efficiency, no bus will run overloaded, all students will be delivered to their homes, and all students will wear masks."