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Chesterfield apologizes for school bus 'stress and frustration'

Posted at 4:52 PM, Aug 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-25 18:13:37-04

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- Wednesday marked day three of delays at some Chesterfield County Public Schools amid a nationwide bus driver shortage.

“I apologize to our families for the stress and frustration that these transportation problems have caused at the start of the school year,” Superintendent Merv Daugherty said in a statement posted on the school system's website Wednesday afternoon. “Our bus drivers are vital to our school system, and I encourage everyone who wants to help children succeed and stay safe to apply to drive a school bus for CCPS.”

The plea for bus drivers started before school began Monday. Chesterfield Schools also urged parents to drive their children to school to help avoid delays.

A long line of cars stretched down both sides of Bailey Bridge Road as parents waited to pick up their children at Alberta Smith Elementary School in Midlothian.

Carolyn O’Connor was one of the many parents that answered Daughtery’s call for help when he urged parents to drive their children to school. The school system started the year about 100 bus drivers short.

“Every year there's been a different game plan since we started school and I think that’s the most frustrating part,” said the mother to two Spring Run Elementary students.

O’Connor witnessed firsthand the impact of parents crowding the roads.

“The parents, at least with Spring Run and the way geographically the way it’s set up, they’re back up in the roads that the buses need to access to get to the schools. So, we are basically fighting against each other,” she explained.

Her children arriving home late and exhausted after school was the alternative to waiting in the long lines at afternoon pick up, she said.

“[Tuesday] their afternoon bus arrived at 5:45 p.m. but I actually went up to the school at 5 o’clock to get them myself. I got in line and was just, ‘We don’t need to get off the school bus crying again,” O’Connor explained.

“There is no doubt that issues with transportation cause a ripple effect and create stress not just for our families but also for our bus drivers, teachers, and school employees,” Daugherty said. “I am so thankful to everyone on Team Chesterfield for doing what’s best for our kids. In every school and in every department, I see people going above and beyond their job descriptions and pulling together to get us through this difficult period.”

Joyce Smith was forced to drive her great-granddaughter to Davis Elementary this week because she isn’t assigned a bus. She also experienced the hectic and long lines outside the school.

“They had policeman yesterday going down the line moving the cars back so the buses could get out and go pick up the kids,” Smith recalled. “That’s what they had to do yesterday because the buses were stuck.”

Smith said she was told it may take up to two weeks before her child is assigned a bus.

Another parent who wanted to remain anonymous told CBS 6 that her Ettrick Elementary student is assigned to ride a bus to and from school. However, on Wednesday, for a third day this week, the assigned bus hasn’t driven through her neighborhood.

Sara Mar, who moved her family to Chesterfield from Michigan a month ago, said her Tomahawk Middle School student wasn’t assigned a bus until Wednesday.

“We built this house because the school district was supposed to be good for the kids. We weren’t expecting to have so many issues with transportation,” she said.

These mothers expressed the same complaint that no one at the transportation office will respond to calls or emails.

“We don’t know who to contact. I couldn’t find the superintendent’s email address. Transportation is one of those, do not reply to, email addresses so it’s kind of a feeling of helplessness,” O’Connor said.

The CBS 6 Problem Solvers requested interviews with Superintendent Daughtery, the school’s transportation director and Chesterfield School Board Chair Ryan Harter. School spokesperson Shawn Smith did not explain why the school leaders were not available to talk on Wednesday.

“This afternoon, I am sharing information with the media and will be sure that you receive a copy of that as that is the focus of our media responses for today,” he wrote in an email.

A school bus driver job fair is scheduled for Sept. 30 from 4 p.m. - 8 p.m. Manchester Middle School (7401 Hull Street Road). Starting pay for a Chesterfield bus driver is $17.21 an hour.