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Snow Complicates School Bus Routes

Lifestyle

Snow Complicates School Bus Routes

The closure of Viaduct or as it was trending over the social media as ‘Viadoom’ has not affected Seattle as expected, but the recent changes in the weather has made the condition of the traffic miserable.

Last week, Seattle Public School students stayed at home for two days and again on this Monday they could not reach school due to unusually heavy snowfall. On Friday, as the schools were open,  39 school bus routes weren’t running in the morning or afternoon because weather conditions prevented a high number of drivers from coming into work, according to First Student, the company that provides bus service for the district. Adding to this, eight more routes were running almost an hour late on morning service.

The district said buses were parked outside of the schools instead of the bus yard after morning routes were finished so that the students got home on time.

It should be noted that the weather complicated an already rough situation. Even in good weather, district officials have been struggling to sort out the district’s transportation problems. The reason behind many late or canceled routes this school year is a driver shortage at First Student, a company that, until recently, was the district’s only provider of yellow-bus transportation to nearly one-fourth of the city’s 53,000 public-school students.

The snow also has brought a new set of challenges for special education students and their families as well. The routines of the special education students have already been disrupted by late or missed buses since fall. As the buses ran onsnow routes on Wednesday and Thursday, Shawna Murphy and several other parents discovered their kids’ special-education buses, which provide door-to-door service, wouldn’t be stopping for them.

When Murphy enquired about the reason for the bus not stopping at her door, she was told she hadn’t filled out a form sent to parents in the fall to opt-in for snow-route service. This was an extra requirement that general-education families don’t need to do.

“They said I had a one-week window in October to do it,” said Murphy. “I had never heard of the form.”

Murphy along with few other parents shared what they discovered on social media and wrote emails to the district. However, Murphy said the district sent parents a copy of the form, but with the stipulation that it would take five business days to process her request.

But as per Murphy, by the time that happens, snow routes might be irrelevant. She said, “I’ve been encouraging people to fill them out anyway to show the need to the district … Transportation is a federal requirement for special-ed students.”

As per a district spokesman, 43 out of 47 routes affected by the delays Friday were for special-education students.

The contract of First Student is set to expire in August 2020.  Superintendent Denise Juneau said in Wednesday’s School Board meeting that she is “taking action” and meeting with a group of business partners and community members at the end of February to discuss a possible mixed delivery model that could build off existing infrastructure. As per many officers, Seattle has outgrown yellow school buses because of its traffic and growing population.

“We cannot continue telling parents to get their kids to school when we are failing on that front,” Juneau said. 

But, she was not available for a comment whether she would advocate for terminating the district’s contract with First Student.

Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant said she wishes to see the district bring bus service in-house during public comment at the board meeting scheduled this week. She brought her three middle-school students who created a petition with more than 1,000 signatures in favor of the district halting the use of outside transportation contractors.

However, the Board president Leslie Harris has vetoed that idea down several times, arguing the district does not have the money and land required to store buses.

A spokesman for First Student said the company had performed well on its goal of fully staffing the routes it services by the end of January. As of now, there are 384 drivers for 360 routes. The district also has started contracting with another company, Durham School Services, for 15 additional buses in October.

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