Arriving late on the struggle bus

What we know:

  • The Riverview Gardens School District (RGSD) is responsible for the busing of KSD students who live in their district to and from school. KSD pays for the 4:15 p.m. and 5:45 p.m. activities buses.
  • During the first week of school, there was a single bus stop for all of the students. Middle and high school students shared one bus. The RGSD chose to do this to be more cost effective.
  • During the second week of school, two bus stops were added. Middle and high school students were given two separate buses.
  • The buses have either been late or five minutes before the first bell for 10 consecutive school days. The students on those buses have been late to class every day.
  • Changes continue to be made to address problems.

Her alarm clock rings at 5:25 a.m. She gets dressed and wakes up her five younger siblings. They pile into their mother’s car as the sun rises and drive to their RGSD bus stops. Their mother waits with them at their stops until the bus arrives to ensure their safety. After Sha’Diya Tomlin, junior, takes a seat on her bus, she waits another 40-60 minutes to drive to KHS.

For 10 days, 36 KHS students from RGSD walked in late, arriving to class anywhere between 7:45-8:10 a.m, according to Romona Miller, assistant principal. According to Dr. Michael Havener, principal, the latest a bus can acceptably arrive is 7:40 a.m. Furthermore, more than 20 students get breakfast in the cafeteria, tacking on another 5-10 minutes keeping them from class. RGSD and KSD have given various reasons as to why the buses have been late, including traffic and the routes the buses take.

“We walk in and everyone turns, and it’s like we’re disrupting the class,” Tomlin said. “As a person, I hate being late because then I feel like I’m missing stuff. As a black student, I already feel like I’m two steps behind where everyone else is at this school. I need to be there on time so I can catch up and be above everyone. That’s my goal. And me being late is taking away from that.”

According to Melanie Powell-Robinson, RGSD executive director of communications, it is common for adjustments to be made to bus routes and bus stops annually.

“Originally, we had bus routes based on where the students were located inside the RGSD community and then where they were going inside of the KSD community,” Powell-Robinson said. “That was three years ago. Since that time we have moved from approximately 490 students attending KSD to a little under 200, and that created a need to readjust the routes. So in a nutshell, what happened was our finance department worked with First Student, our transportation provider, and they said we have some school buses with six or seven students on it, and you need to become more efficient.”

For Tomlin and Indya Smith, junior, the busing system caused them to be late to AP Language and Composition, the first AP class they have taken at KHS. Both said Janet Depasquale, English teacher, has accommodated them by emailing them the next day’s plan, in case they miss the beginning of class.

“What makes [being late] worse in an AP class is the pace,” Depasquale said. “I usually have three different things we are doing in that 45-minute block. It frustrates me because I also feel powerless to change it. I at least felt like [last] week was a little better, but it’s still not okay.

The first week of school, there was only one bus stop available at Riverview Gardens High School because the district factored in the number of parents who drive their students to the bus stop, according to Powell-Robinson. Both middle and high school students shared this bus on their way to NKMS and KHS. The following week two other bus stops were added, with separate buses for middle and high schoolers with a goal of getting them to school on time. Powell-Robinson said as parents continue to suggest changes, accommodations will be made.

“It was better today and our hope is that it will continue to get better,” Dr. Tom Williams, KSD superintendent, said. “But one thing that is pretty unpredictable is the traffic, you can’t change the bus pickup time every day depending on the traffic. [RGSD] is still working through some of those challenges and they should get better every day. That’s our hope.”

According to Williams and Powell-Robinson, the districts touch base daily about how to improve transportation.

“We want students to arrive on time,” Powell-Robinson said. “They definitely need to be there in time to get their mind right for school, have breakfast if they want, and then be able to have their social networking time. And so, with regards to the buses arriving late, there are other factors [to consider]. In the past, [those factors] have been accommodated for, and so what has to happen is the RGSD is going to have to talk to First Student about the late arrival of buses at any other schools. It’s not acceptable whether it’s one bus, or two, it needs to be addressed.”