The Howard County Public School System’s communication office will take over communicating bus delays to students’ families, previously the responsibility of the system’s transportation office.
The move comes after a lack of communication contributed to a system-wide failure of bus routes that left some students stranded at the start of the 2023-2024 school year last week.
Some students had to wait for an hour to get on a bus, or didn’t get to school at all. The volume of delays was more than the HCPSS Office of Student Transportation was able to handle, said Brian Bassett, a spokesperson for the school system, in an email to Baltimore Fishbowl on Friday.
Bassett said communication either wasn’t happening or was happening late.
“Therefore, the HCPSS Office of Communications is going to take over the process of receiving bus delay information directly from the contractors and sending notification to families as a solution to ensure timely communication,” he wrote in his email.
“Unfortunately, I am extremely disappointed that there were errors that could have been mitigated and were not,” HCPSS Superintendent Michale Martirano said in a press release Wednesday.
Among the mistakes Martirano listed in the release were inaccurate information provided to the contracting bus drivers which caused them to get lost; providing students and their families with the wrong bus numbers; failure to communicate well with parents; and inadequate testing of the bus transport system before it went live on Monday.
The school system had been expecting a smooth transition into the new school year, and was feeling positive about its ability to keep parents informed. Bassett told Baltimore Fishbowl in an interview Aug. 24 regarding school crosswalk revitalization that there was regular messaging with students’ parents.
“We’ve been encouraging them (parents) that if challenges arise, or if needs change, to either contact our office of transportation for the school system, or contact the administration in their child’s school to help work through any of those issues that could arise,” he said in that interview.
There are 14,000 HCPSS students who walk to school, but many of the rest of the 57,000 students use the contract bus system.
Also contributing to the delays last Monday, 20 new drivers hired by the contractor Zum quit before their first day of work.
“Those 20 routes that were suspended will be restored as soon as Zum Transportation has sufficient drivers to fill those routes,” Bassett wrote Friday. “They currently have drivers completing their CDL and other training and hope to be able to fill all their driver needs quickly.”
Martirano told the Baltimore Sun last week that about 70 Zum bus drivers were being flown in to help provide transportation.
Bassett also wrote that the current director of student transportation, Brian Nevin, is continuing in his role to rectify the issues, but that the former director of student transportation, David Ramsay, has been brought in for leadership and coordination.
“We needed as much expertise, experience and perspective as possible and are grateful that Mr. Ramsay was available and willing to assist,” Bassett wrote.