No matter how you slice it, this is always hard.
A parent complains a child had a traumatic school bus experience that could have been avoided. In this case, it was a kindergarten student on her first day of school at Wyoming Valley West, but the problem pops up almost every year somewhere, and can be in any grade.
The parents of Bria Barnett said the bus failed to pick her up in the morning, and didn’t drop her off as expected in the afternoon. District Transportation Director Kim Alfano said she talked to the bus company and was told that, yes, they didn’t make the pick up, but that the drop off was delayed because no adult was there to meet Bria. Both the law and district policy bar a driver from leaving a kindergarten student unattended at a bus stop, so Bria was purportedly kept on the vehicle until the driver completed the route, then returned to the stop and let Bria off.
The parents, and a crossing guard, dispute the bus company’s version. Who to believe?
Lets start with one impressive fact that often gets overlooked when school bus issues arise. There are about 41,000 students in Luzerne County’s 11 school districts, and more in various non-public schools. Not all of them ride a bus, of course, but the fact that so many students get to and from school every day for 180 school days with so few reported problems should count for something.
That doesn’t diminish this or any incident where a child is subject to one of a myriad of school bus woes, from bullying to being left behind anywhere in the process. But it does provide a little perspective.
As Bria’s story unfolded, conflicting accounts emerged, and it became clear someone was being less than truthful. That’s unacceptable. When it comes to a child’s safety, everyone should want — as the traditional oath before testifying in court goes — the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
While there may be more to come, by the end of the week it seemed that the school district in general and Alfano in particular deserved credit for persisting in trying to get to that “whole truth.”
It’s important to remember that the days when school districts bought their own bus fleet and hired there own drivers are, for the most part, long gone. School transportation has become largely a specialized business contracted out to companies of various sizes. The district still typically draws up the bus routes and devises systems for keeping track of it all, but the driver is usually not a district employee and the bus is not a district vehicle.
In the case of Wyoming Valley West — Luzerne County’s third-largest district with more than 4,500 students — the bus schedule on the district website lists 99 routes serving seven district schools and 10 non-district schools. Yes, one mistake in that complex web is still one too many. The person responsible must be duly disciplined, and procedures must be revised to avoid a recurrence.
But so far the district seems to be pursuing that course. And while those in charge deserve rebuke for the mistake, they merit credit if they truly pursue the cause and learn from it, improving protocol accordingly.