Since school started Aug. 30 in the Mt. Diablo district, hundreds of parents of special education students have complained that their children have been stranded with no bus, dropped off at the wrong address, or have missed class time because buses were late.
The school board voted last year to begin transporting all special education students on district buses this year to save money, by discontinuing a contract with Durham Transportation through the Contra Costa County Office of Education. But the plan has not been well-executed, district officials and parents say.
Several parents and special education assistants discussed the problems during a Community Advisory Committee meeting last Monday, where they expected to receive an update on the district’s transportation system.
But Mildred Browne, superintendent of special education, told the group that the administrator in charge of busing had taken an abrupt 30-day medical leave of absence, which she found out about just two hours before the meeting. She said she had received more than a 100 phone calls a day complaining about busing problems.
Here is a link to video of that discussion: http://qik.com/video/44239715.
Parents expressed frustration at the lack of information they received.
“The situation is pretty dire,” said parent Wendy Citron. “Parents don’t know who’s picking up their kids.”
Brown agreed that the system wasn’t working.
“It’s a huge concern that we don’t know who’s going to be over the department for a month,” Browne said.
Even Superintendent Steven Lawrence couldn’t answer that question, she said.
“I just think that at this point there are so many holes in the system that we all need to sit down and perhaps have a conversation about what triage and concerns need to be addressed first,” Browne said. “We have several different scenarios. We have students that are getting to school, but they are getting to school late. We have students that aren’t getting to school at all and they’re also not getting picked up. We have some students that are getting to school, but it may not be the right school.”
Other students, she said, are spending long periods of time on the bus before or after school. She suggested that the district might want to first address students who aren’t being picked up at all.
“I don’t know how to do routing or bus transportation,” Browne said. “So, I don’t have that information.”
One parent said her son relied on bus assistants, which Durham provided, to maintain order between students on the bus. The district hasn’t provided an assistant on his new bus and he was concerned about his safety while riding with another student, she said.
Citron said her daughter was almost dropped off at her home when no one was there, instead of at the address she had provided to the district.
“I don’t know that the board knows how critical these issues are,” she said.
Browne said board members had been informed and that she would meet with Lawrence Tuesday to discuss the issues.
Committee Chairwoman Lorrie Davis said she was disappointed that neither Board President Gary Eberhart nor Trustee Lynne Dennler — who are the board liaisons to the committee — were at the meeting. Trustee Linda Mayo attended and said she was aware of the problems.
Parent Mike Mayo (no relation to Linda Mayo) said his son was left at school every day the previous week. He also spoke to the school board about the bus problems Tuesday.
At the Teacher of the Year awards dinner on Thursday, I asked Linda Mayo, Superintendent Steven Lawrence and trustee Cheryl Hansen about the problems.
Hansen said she had received several e-mails from parents.
“I’ve had quite a bit of horror stories,” she said, adding that Lawrence was tackling the issue.
Lawrence said some of the problems stemmed from new students who arrived in August and some bus drivers taking on new routes. He said principals were given information about the routes Thursday.
“We’re busing 2,200 kids,” he said.
Most are in special education and some are “overflowed” to other campuses because of overcrowding at their neighborhood schools. The district also buses some children who would normally attend poor-performing schools to other campuses, according to No Child Left Behind.
“Most are being transported properly,” he said.
Mayo said district staff was working to remedy the problems.
“I do know that more children were picked up today,” she said.
Do you agree with the board’s decision to discontinue its contract with Durham Transportation?
SEPT. 22 UPDATE: As I noted in my previous blog post about special education, we cannot name special education children either by name or by association and any comments that do that are being edited or deleted.