Stanfield parent voices concerns regarding bus problems

A Stanfield Elementary School parent voiced frustration during Tuesday night’s Stanly County School Board meeting regarding the struggles many parents face getting their children to school on time following bus problems.

The issue began in October, said Stanfield resident Whitney Short, when parents discovered the driver of Bus 91 unexpectedly quit and the route was picked up by another bus. Several months later and Bus 91 still has no driver, she said.

Short, who has a kindergartner and third grader, said she and other parents were only given 24 hours notice that the bus would not be operating. Whenever parents asked about updates on West Stanly Transportation, a Facebook page set up to provide information on buses in West Stanly, Short said many of their comments were deleted.

The Stanly News & Press spoke with Short Wednesday morning about her concerns.

Bus 92 has been picking up the students, Short said, but only after completing its own route, resulting in many students arriving to school late since the bus arrives at her children’s stop an hour later than usual. She also alleged Bus 91 students arriving to school late on Bus 92 are marked as tardy.

Stanly County Schools, in answers to questions from the paper, acknowledged the district is 10 bus drivers short, though four drivers have been hired since last July. It also said Short’s assertion that certain students were being marked as tardy was not true.

“Stanfield is a late-start school that begins at 8:55. After running a double route the bus typically arrives around 9:15 a.m.,” the school system said.

Short takes her children to school in the mornings, though it impacts when she can get to work. Another parent recently lost his job in Charlotte due to the hurdles of dropping off and picking up his kids.

“You think removing a bus from a particular group of kids gives them the same chance at a fair education?” Short said.

After voicing concerns on the Facebook page earlier this year, including encouraging parents to attend school board meetings, Short said she was temporarily blocked from making further posts, infringing on her First Amendment rights. She has since been unblocked.

SCS said once the district was made aware of these types of Facebook pages, communication was redirected through “district-approved platforms.”

Short has reached out to anyone who could possibly help, she said, including the district’s transportation department, school board members, county commissioners, the sheriff’s department, Charlotte news media and the North Carolina State Board of Education. She has also spoken to many other parents.

Short said she wants Bus 91’s vacancy to be filled as soon as possible. She also offered several temporary solutions including allowing parents to drop their kids at the school’s gym beginning at 8 a.m. instead of 8:30 a.m. She also said the other Stanfield buses could fill in the gaps left by Bus 91.

“Why hasn’t Stanly County taken the time to reroute the other five buses at Stanfield to pick up just a couple of extra kids?” Short said.

SCS said these proposed solutions “are not valid solutions and will impact a greater amount of families and school personnel, as they would have to be fairly implemented across the district.”

Another option, Short said, would be for Bus 92 to flip its routes twice a week, so Bus 91’s students could get picked up first.

Comparing the county to a ship, Short called the school board members “pirates,” saying they “have robbed us of our voice and our trust and you have weakened our school system. You have ignored our cries for help and you have stolen a valuable resource from our children: school transportation.”

She later added the school board has “stolen these kids’ chance for a fair education by not having transportation” in place.

Short said Wednesday she plans to continue speaking at school board meetings each month until the issue is resolved.