School buses did not show or were delayed across Howard County on first day of school

Aug. 28—The first day of the 2023-24 academic year in Howard County Public Schools began with several bus stops full of nervously excited students and concerned parents waiting for buses that never arrived for morning pickups.

Superintendent Michael Martirano said in a Monday afternoon news release that some delays were expected during dismissals as well.

"We have received confirmation from transportation contractors that all routes will be covered this afternoon even if it requires buses doubling back to return to the school and cover another route. For that reason, we are preparing for some delays during dismissal," Martirano said.

Martirano said 10 bus routes would likely require a "double run" that would affect dismissals at 19 schools Monday afternoon.

"All students will be supervised at the school until such a time that they are transported home," Martirano said in the news release.

In the morning, buses were delayed or did not show up for some students attending at least 27 Howard schools, including Atholton High, Glenelg High, Long Reach High, Reservoir High, Clarksville Middle, Dunloggin Middle, Elkridge Landing Middle, Ellicott Mills Middle, Hammond Middle, Harper's Choice Middle, Lake Elkhorn Middle, Lime Kiln Middle, Mayfield Woods Middle, Atholton Elementary, Bellows Spring Elementary, Bollman Bridge Elementary, Centennial Lane Elementary, Forrest Ridge Elementary, Fulton Elementary, Hollifield Station Elementary, Ilchester Elementary, Jeffers Hill Elementary, Longfellow Elementary, Phelps Luck Elementary, Pointers Run Elementary, Rockburn Elementary, St. Johns Lane Elementary, Swansfield Elementary, Talbott Springs and Veterans Elementary.

At least one bus did not show up at all for a route serving Mayfield, Harper's Choice, Clarksville, Swanfield, Hollifield Station and Bollman Bridge, according to staff at those schools.

Some parents reported on social media that at least one bus transported students to the wrong school, but those reports could not be confirmed with the school system.

According to a statement issued by Martirano, "several buses were delayed, did not show up at all and/or families received conflicting or no updates regarding the status of the bus. We are working to mitigate these challenges and will provide another update to families regarding information related to today's dismissal."

Rebecca Pisner, 38, of Columbia, found alternative transportation for her kids after it was clear buses would not arrive on time Monday morning. She said she was frustrated by an unclear message she received from the school system indicating that buses would still be coming.

"I think this is really going to be a crap show for at least a week," Pisner said. "I just don't know what families are going to do, and I wish there had been even better communication from the county or the schools."

Pisner is mother to Howard County elementary and middle school students. She said both students are new at their respective schools because the family recently moved.

Pisner's son got a ride with another family after everyone at the stop gave up hope of the bus arriving, and she transported her daughter to school herself. The hospital care manager said she is glad that she took the day off from work, and that her husband works a technology job from home in case the kids needed to return to the house.

"For so many parents that's really not an option," Pisner said. "There are so many two-parent working families and I don't know what their kids would have done, or at what point do the kids walk back home. How would they know if the bus was ever going to show up?"

Corrine Happel, 40, of Ellicott City, found herself in a similar position when the bus did not show up for her three children attending Centennial Lane Elementary. She said the bus was scheduled to arrive at 8:21 a.m. and families at her stop decided to drive their kids at 9 a.m., making them late for the school's 8:40 a.m. start time. Happel is the mother of five children, ages 9, 7, 6, 4 and 1.

"Parents certainly don't want kids to miss out on their first day of school," Happel said. "The kids are excited. They're a little upset that they weren't there right when school started, but I think they're being flexible and trying to make the best of it."

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Missing some of the first day of school is likely a more significant detriment to middle and high school students than for elementary schoolers, Pisner said.

Happel said most families at her bus stop arranged a late start to their work day Monday to ensure a smooth start to the school year, but she doubts that starting work late every day will be a tenable solution for anyone.

"The big question is, what's going to happen this afternoon when a lot of parents are at work? Are parents going to come home early from work to pick up their kids, or are they going to be able to rely on the bus? That's not clear to us yet," Happel said.

Pisner said she is anxious about bus pickup after the way things went Monday morning but would give the bus system another shot Monday afternoon.

The school system said last week that it had come to an "amicable resolution" of contract issues raised in a lawsuit filed last fall — and later withdrawn — by owners of transportation companies that provide school bus service, according to a news release from the school system.

The school system has agreements with 21 contractors to provide bus service to 503 total bus routes this fall. Zum Services, based in California, has 230 routes; Tip Top Transportation, based in Elkridge, has 58. The 19 other contractors, based in the region, split the remaining 215 routes.

Martirano announced earlier this month that all 503 public school bus routes would be covered in time to take students to and from school at the start of the new school year.