'We haven’t been heard’: Chesterfield parents of students with special needs continue to voice concerns over busing

Chesterfield parents worried about bus issues

CHESTERFIELD, Va. (WWBT) - During Chesterfield County Public School’s Special Education Advisory Committee Tuesday, committee members addressed transportation issues still affecting the county. Parents of students with special needs say issues like late buses, long commutes for students and low driving staff is making things especially difficult for their children with special needs.

“We do have children and families really suffering severe consequences of transportation anomalies and I think a lot of us felt like we haven’t been heard at a school board meeting or normal communications,” said Wendy Little.

“Another concern of mine is the recruitment of bus drivers and bus aides. They are severely underpaid for the responsibility they take on,” said parent Connie Bolte. " I understand the CCPS budget is spread thin and will never be able to truly meet the need of all our students under the current infrastructure, but it’s painfully obvious to me and my neighbors that Chesterfield County has taken little time to consider the specific needs of children with autism."

Little says the lack of consistency during the morning commutes is having negative effects on her child’s performance in the classroom.

“It’s something that not only affects the students but the teachers. It’s making their days longer, buses aren’t coming on time,” said Jessica Nelson.

There are currently 115 SpEd Buses that complete routes daily on up to 518 total SpEd routes. In all, there are 1,408 SpEd students in Chesterfield County.

During the meeting, the committee showed off a transportation presentation detailing plans the school system is trying to implement to fix the transportation problems while also identifying the challenges they still need to address.

The County budget plan for FY21 includes a pay increase by 75-cents an hour for bus drivers - that’s on top of the 75-cent increase back in December 2019.

The County also plans to add a total of 25 SpEd buses to its fleet. Each bus can hold up to 53 passengers. Ten of the 25 has already been ordered with the remaining 15 buses planned to be ordered by the end of February. The plan is to have these busses replace buses in the current fleet when they are out of service for repairs or additional buses are needed for field trips.

Starting next in March the county will also be providing training de-escalation and redirection, to better help those students with special needs. By August, MANDT training will also be provided to attendants or drivers on private placement routes.

“The transportation issues weren’t something that happened overnight so unfortunately, I don’t know that there is a quick fix... it takes time to turn the ship around and I think that’s what is happening with a lot of the proposed budget changes and procedural changes,” said School Board member Dot Heffron.

“I was really pleased with the presentations that were given today and now I’m just crossing my fingers that those promises are realized,” said Bolte.

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