Daniel Zhao

Although the New Haven Board of Education promised last month to resolve the city-wide school bus crisis by Oct. 1, many parents remain concerned about the dramatic reduction of bus stops and the safety risks it poses on students.

Initially implemented to save costs, the New Haven public school system slashed the number of bus stops from 8,800 to just over 4,000 earlier this summer. While the measures would significantly reduce the deficit currently posted by the district, critics of the policy say that those cuts caused mass chaos throughout New Haven — several young students must walk long distances alone and often through dangerous intersections.

“This is my first experience with the public school system, and I must say I’m not very impressed,” New Haven public school system parent Kristen Marie Calderon told the News.

Conflict over bus routes has raged within the district since the start of the school year on Aug. 29. The New Haven Board of Education met in early September to discuss bus routes, and New Haven public school system Superintendent Carol Birks apologized at the meeting for any “pain and anguish” experienced by students and parents alike. Pressured by board members’ concerns, New Haven public school system chief operating officer Michael Pinto announced that the district will resolve all bus issues by Oct. 1.

Pinto and the school district’s Director of Transportation Fred Till could not be reached for comment.

In an interview with the News, board member Matthew Wilcox said as of Tuesday afternoon, he didn’t have any updates from the district about measures implemented to alleviate the busing crisis. On Wednesday, the district will hold a forum at 295 Wilmot Road in West Rock to discuss concerns regarding fewer bus stops, Wilcox added.

Meanwhile, safety issues posed on students have dragged on for more than a month, and parents have stormed into board of education meetings to voice their concerns.

Scores of parents have testified that due to the cuts, students are forced to walk further to bus stops and have to cross bustling streets and high-crime areas. In addition, many pointed out that as the days get shorter, students with longer bus routes may be walking home in the dark.

In an interview with the News, parent Bethzaida Roche said her child’s morning bus has continuously arrived past its appointed time — making her ten-year-old daughter late for school. Roche added that her daughter sometimes has to walk home alone from the bus stop, which is eight blocks from their house.

Calderon added that although she requested a bus route change in early September for her kindergarten-age son, the bus did show up this morning. Instead, her son’s caregiver had to personally call the Board of Education to arrange a ride.

Although students are bearing the brunt of the impact, many parents have also noted their own struggles. Parents who cannot arrange alternate transportation for their children must often drive to school themselves and are often forced to arrive late for work. In a Sept. 11 Board of Education meeting, a few parents said they lost their jobs for persistent tardiness because they had to drive to school so often.

“I know you guys are working hard, however, we have parents that are on the verge of losing jobs … because their [children’s] buses aren’t showing up,” board member Tamiko Jackson-McArthur said at the meeting. “This is not acceptable.”

According to the school district’s website, New Haven school buses transport 17,804 students daily.

 

Valerie Pavilonis | valerie.pavilonis@yale.edu