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Howard County says dozens of school bus routes scrapped for first week of school

Howard County says 20 school bus routes scrapped for first week of school
Howard County says 20 school bus routes scrapped for first week of school 03:37

BALTIMORE -- Some parents in Howard County are asked to make alternative arrangements for their students to get to school this week after bus drivers for 54 routes called out, the school district said. 

The announcement comes after a frantic first day of school with major delays in the bus schedule. 

"One of the HCPSS bus contractors, Zum Transportation, has informed us that they will not be able to cover 54 routes due to driver callouts for the remainder of this week," Howard County Schools said in a statement. 

All students who are absent or tardy due to issues with transportation will be considered excused absences, the district said. 

As provided by HCPS, the routes that Zum will not be able to cover for August 29 - September 1 are:

1020 - Mt Hebron HS, Patapsco MS, St John's Lane ES
1023 - Centennial HS, Centennial Lane ES, St John's Lane ES
1148 - Atholton HS, Cradlerock ES
1161 - Atholton HS, Thunder Hill ES
1163 - Wilde Lake HS, Wilde Lake MS
1165 - Atholton HS, Wilde Lake MS
1168 - Atholton HS, Mayfield Woods MS, Bellows Spring ES
1191 - Long Reach HS, Lake Elkhorn MS, Atholton ES
1078 - Clarksville MS, Pointers Run ES
1090 - Reservoir HS, Hammond MS, Forest Ridge ES
1155 - Oakland Mills HS, Phelps Luck ES, Thunder Hill ES
1201 - Long Reach HS, Phelps Luck ES, Atholton ES
1122 - Patuxent Valley MS, Murray Hill MS
1144 - Atholton HS, Swansfield ES, Waterloo ES
1053 - Dunloggin MS, Burleigh Manor MS, Northfield ES
1176 - Atholton HS, Talbot Springs ES, Waterloo ES
1089 - Hammond HS, Bollman Bridge ES, Gorman Crossing ES
1070 - Hammond HS, Hammond MS, Guilford ES
1173 - Clarksville MS, Pointers Run ES, Swansfield ES
1154 - Wilde Lake HS, Wilde Lake MS, Running Brook ES

"I share in the frustration that too many students, parents and families have experienced with these transportation hurdles," Howard County Executive Calvin Ball said.

Ball said that bus issues shouldn't happen after the Board of Education was funded with a $8.2 million increase for transportation.

The County also worked to complete more than 85 infrastructure projects to improve school walking routes, which include crosswalks, sidewalks, ADA ramps, pathways, roadway signage and more. 

The Howard County Police Department has ensured that every school crossing guard location was fully staffed at the start of the school year, which included an increase of 22 new crossing guards for this school year.

"As we navigate these transportation challenges, as a community, I want to thank all the hardworking educators and bus drivers who are working tirelessly to support our students and families this week," Ball said. "While this is a challenging time, please remember to treat them with respect and patience as they work to support the needs of our students."

According to Howard County Superintendent Michael Martirano, delays often happen at the start of the school year because drivers are learning their routes. On Monday morning, more than 200 buses were trying to leave the bus depot at the same time, causing a major traffic bottleneck.

Several parents told WJZ about their experiences with bus problems.

"As a parent, I'm a little concerned about my daughter's safety," Amanda Clark told WJZ.

She said she was perturbed by the lack of notice about the bus problem. Typically, the school district is good about communicating with parents, she said.

Colleen Kirby said that after a rocky first day, she's been leaning on her second grader's Smartwatch to communicate and track her 7-year-old after dismissal. 

But, she said, an email was sent by a teacher saying that violates school policy. 

"The only reason I had any peace of mind today was that after dismissal, I took it off of school mode so that he could text and FaceTime with just me and ask him where he was, is he OK, who is he with," Kirby said. "So to come home after all of that, after two days of this and be told that's against policy, it's something they need to let slide."

Mandy Bergin, one of many Howard County parents who had to drive their kids to school on the first day, said she waited 50 minutes for her son's bus, but it never showed.

"We didn't want him to be late for the first day of school," Bergin said. "That's something special, you know, we didn't want him to miss it."

Another parent told WJZ that the confusion caused her middle school-aged daughter to get on the wrong bus.

"My daughter actually jumped on the high school bus this morning, not realizing it," parent Nikki Marlatt-Young said. "Then they got down the road, and then she told the bus driver that she was on the wrong bus, that she's a middle schooler and then he let her off right there."

"Find your own way to school, to me, and a lot of other parents, that's completely unacceptable," another parent said.

WJZ obtained several memos that were sent to parents about the delays.

Martirano said one of the issues that contributed to the delays was the fact that some bus numbers did not match the ones parents found on the school district's "Connect" website, which is a platform used to communicate with parents.

The buses are addressing the signage problem by having signs in their windows with numbers that align with those found on the HCPSS Connect website.

The contractor currently has drivers in the training pipeline and is working to address the vacancies, the district said.

During the summer, the district announced a contract with Zum, a California-based bus company with a fleet of 250 buses.   

At that time, Martirano said the new contractor had assured the district that it would have additional drivers at the ready.

"On that first day, if we don't have enough bus drivers here, they've already contracted 40 bus drivers from other locations to have them come here, put them up in hotels until we are able to fill our positions," Martirano had said.  

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