Dinwiddie superintendent addresses bus delays after parent complaints

Published: Oct. 6, 2021 at 7:55 PM EDT
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DINWIDDIE, Va. (WWBT) - Two months into the school year, parents like Ray Hawkins say he might be the exception when it comes to his experience dealing with Dinwiddie County Public Schools bus transportation issues.

“My kids get here on time and buses aren’t late,” Hawkins said. “But from what I hear, the county is having late buses on a daily basis.”

Hawkins, like many parents, said he receives automated phone calls from the schools whenever there are delays in bus transportation. The school system says it officially launched its Versatrans My Stop Bus Tracking system-wide after going through a trial phase of the app last spring. However, difficulties in the app working properly and transportation shortages have resulted in frustration from many parents who rely on the services.

In response, the school system posted an apology via its Facebook page.

“Like school divisions across the Nation, Dinwiddie County Public Schools is facing a shortage of bus drivers. While this situation is not unique to our school system, we are aware of its impact on student transportation schedules and the inconvenience to our families,” the school system said in a statement.

Many parents responded to the post in anger and frustration over the app not working for them. Dinwiddie Superintendent Kari Weston said the app is working fine, but there are issues with it operating in rural areas.

“Some issues have to do with areas of the county where connectivity is harder, and some have to do with some substitute drivers, where there are some learning curves,” Weston said.

Kari Weston also says the school system is taking another look at how they train bus drivers to use the app properly.

“It’s just about using it more frequently and getting used to the process of using it and turning it on each day; so it really has more to do with training and substitute drivers and things of that nature,” said Weston.

One parent says that students who ride the bus are supposed to be issued a student ID with a barcode that can be scanned into the bus tracking app. That allows each student to be accounted for and tracked via the app. One parent says only two of her four children who ride the bus have received the ID. Weston says students who do not have an ID should receive them soon from their principals.

“Some principals are holding the cards until they can issue them to all the students. We expect those to arrive this week.” Weston said. “There are card printers in each school so replacement cards are always available.”

Despite the issues, Weston said the county will continue to rely on the bus app calling it the ‘right form of communication” because of the opportunity it affords parents in real-time to know where their children are.

“It is the right tool, but we just have to work through these challenges,” Weston said. “In the interim, we will continue to do robocalls to inform families of when buses will be late; we’ve always done that both in the mornings and afternoons.”

In addition, Weston says the school systems office hours have been extended so parents can call in whenever they experience bus delays. Weston says additional support for students through supervision and snacks will also be provided during periods of extended bus delays

Weston says Dinwiddie schools is also down 12 bus drivers either from quitting, retirement or medical leave not related to COVID.

Currently, Weston says the school system’s transportation director is training a new cohort of bus drivers to fill in the much-needed positions. Weston says that training can typically take between 15 and 30 days to complete before those drivers are able to bus students to and from school. Weston says they are also looking into rehiring 16 of their retired bus drivers in a part-time capacity to help fill the gaps in transportation.

She says the county is discussing higher pay as an option to retain drivers as well as entice new drivers to join its force. In total, Dinwiddie Schools currently has about 65 active bus drivers who operate its 507 square-mile county

The county’s next school board meeting will be Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021. A closed session meeting will begin at 2 p.m., followed by a regular session at 4 p.m., which is open to the public.

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