Parents Say City Failed Students in Providence Bus Debacle
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
According to parents, a bus carrying students from the Henry Barnard School got lost on the East Side after being on the road for an extended period of time for its after-school drop-off -- and then stopped and let all of the kids out.
"I heard that the school department said there were only 6 to 8 students on the bus, and that they were safe at all times," said parent Kira Weidner Greene. "There were more than that, and no, there were not "safe". Not at all."
Parents Outraged at Bus Issues
"My goal is to explain to the city that this is a pervasive problem," said Weidner-Greene. "Children all over the city late to school every day...this is an issue of respect."
The comments were focused primarily on buses being late, and not being able to get though -- or get information -- from First Student, the company contracted by the city of Providence to provide services -- who did not send a representative Tuesday night, which was noted multiple times by parents.
John Marion, Executive Director of Common Cause and a parent of one of the children who was on the bus, helped moderate the community forum, and asked for a show of hands of the crowd as to who came to talk about bus 121, which was the one in question from Friday, and who were from other schools.
According to Marion's assessment, the split was roughly sixty percent Henry Barnard, and forty percent from other schools. And while some parents took to the microphone to talk, others piped up -- and often shouted -- from their chairs, as children roamed around, some crying, throughout the meeting.
Michelle Meek, a Henry Barnard parent who helped organize and moderate the meeting, said she had concerns when her daughter started first grade and would take a bus. "I was worried about bullying, but what I should have been worried about was her being late, or being left off with no parent there."
Henry Barnard parent Colin Remington recounted his experience on Friday, when he finally tracked down -- and boarded -- the errant bus.
"Some of the kids were crying, there were clearly some kids that were distraught. I asked them to open the window, some of the kids were perspiring, their hair plastered to their heads, as they'd been on the bus for a while."
What concerned Remington -- and other parents -- is that children were let off the bus unaccounted for. "A lot of children left with someone else," said Remington, meaning not their parents or guardians. "It was troubling that had to happen."
Reaction from City and School Department Met With Mixed Response
"I understand the concerns and frustrations. If my kid was on 131, I'd be upset too," to which a number of parents shouted, "121", for the correct number of the bus in question on Friday.
"I want to let you know we've made some changes already," Luger said, telling the crowd assembled, "From now on, you'll have an experienced East Side driver...and we'll also have an experienced East Side bus monitor."
However, this failed to placate tempers in the crowed, when parents starting speaking out about buses without monitors, as well as buses on which high school students were intermingled with elementary school students.
"Culturally, your bus system is dysfunctional. I don't want to hear the band-aid you'll put on 121," said one parent in the crowd. "I've heard from multiple schools impacted. ..this isn't something you just fix on Friday," referring to the beleaguered bus in question.
David Ortiz with the City addressed the crowd. "We're here because we asked be here, but i'm not here to get shouted at, and talked over. We're not able to have a productive conversation."
He continued, "We're working on tracks...short term, and long term. We agreed to be here because of the event that happened on Friday, and what we've begun to do," adding that he had kids in Providence schools. "We're members of the community as well."
Keith Oliveira, President of the Providence School Board, who had been sitting in the audience, took to the microphone.
"We were told by the school board last year, that we could gain efficiencies if we reconfigured routes in a certain way," he said. "We're bringing in the consultants and looking at those routes..i understand it's unacceptable."
One audience member spoke up and said, "Why would you be going to them again?" adding, "I hope you're not paying them for this."
Audience members brought up several times that they believed the busing issues were a direct result of budgetary cuts.
Marion, who took notes throughout the meeting, told the crowd that the issues raised would be presented to the city and the Providence Public Schools Department, and that those in attendance should provide their emails for future communications.
Oliveira encouraged people to come air their concerns to the school board. "Next meeting's Monday night," he told the crowd.
Weidner-Greene posted communications well past the meeting, noting that First Student had recently been fired by the City of Boston, referencing a Boston Globe article from March on the development.
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