Parents share busing problems

October 21, 2007|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

WASHINGTON COUNTY - For many parents, it was a familiar story.

They remember the fear of not knowing where their children were. The moments of terror ended when they saw their children unharmed and back home.

One mother remembers hiding her tears from her young daughter, not wanting her to know how scared she was.

Area parents say a story about a young boy who boarded the wrong school bus last week and was dropped off two miles from his home not only struck a chord with them, but made them remember similar problems they have had with Washington County Public Schools transportation.

When Brenda Burkett heard about the Funkstown student's ordeal, she said it brought back memories of a day 30 years ago when her own daughter was involved in a busing error. Her daughter, who was in kindergarten at the time, got onto the wrong bus, but Burkett said the situation was handled well.


The bus driver took her daughter back to Potomac Heights Elementary School, where she was enrolled.

"When I went to the bus stop to get her, she didn't get off the bus," said Burkett, who now lives in Williamsport.

She said she went to the school, and the principal told Burkett that her daughter accidentally got on the wrong bus, but that the driver brought her back to school.

"Of course, back then, you didn't have to worry about what you have to worry about now," she said.

Parents involved in similar school bus incidents say they still worry about what could have happened to their children. In some of the cases, the parents said they complained to their school principals about the events involving their child, while others say they addressed school system staff with their concerns.

Larissa Uphold of Hagerstown said her daughter, Danielle, was a first-grader when she boarded the wrong bus at Pangborn Elementary School. Uphold said that at the end of the bus route her daughter, who now is a third-grader, was the only student left on the bus when she was told to get off of the bus and into a car with a woman she did not know.

"The bus driver knew she was getting into the car," Uphold said. "It was another mom, and I guess the driver thought she would be safe."

Uphold said she had spent years telling her daughter not to get into a car with strangers.

"(The driver) knew she was getting in that car," she said. "He should have taken her back to school because he knew she was on the wrong bus."

Uphold said her daughter was dropped off about two miles from her home, but was able to tell the woman where she lived.

"When is it going to stop? When the wrong person picks up these kids," Uphold said.

She said it took her a few years before she let her daughter ride a school bus home again. Now, she rides the bus with a friend.

"I told her she was going to be in middle school before she rode the bus again," Uphold said.

Adama Macalou, who lives in Hagerstown, said her 6-year-old was found near Pangborn Park after being dropped off at the wrong bus stop earlier this year.

She said the girl was dropped off near an apartment complex along Security Boulevard. Macalou found her daughter about a half-mile from home, while she was driving to the school to find her.

"I started driving back to the school and I see my child walking," she said.

Macalou said she believes her daughter was in the park for five minutes or more, but it was enough time for her to be sweating and exhausted when she found her walking along the road.

"She walked around the whole park," she said. "And trust me, she has not been in a bus since."

Macalou said her family comes from Frederick County, Md., where bus drivers have lists with the names of the children on their bus and phone numbers to call in case of emergency.

Other parents say their children have had problems before ever boarding a bus.

Karen Bravo of Hagerstown said her son was supposed to walk home on his first day of kindergarten in August, but was found that afternoon waiting in line to take a bus home.

"There's no telling where he would have ended up," she said.

Her son did not get on the bus because a crossing guard, who knew he should have been walking home, went to find him.

For two weeks after that incident, Bravo said her son went to school wearing a sign that said, "My name is Nathan Bravo. I am a walker. Please do not put me on a bus."

About five years ago, when Cheri Ferguson's son was in the first grade, he walked away from Winter Street Elementary School instead of getting into a van for his after-school program. He was found about one mile away, on West Washington Street near Cedar Lawn Memorial Park.

The Hagerstown resident said that after that incident, she put her son in day care.

BOE statement

We have been engaged in a thorough review of practices and procedures in the effort to ensure the highest level of transportation service we can provide to thousands of students every day, and to ensure that every part of the transportation process, from the school to the bus stop, places the safety and well-being of the students as the top priority. We are keenly aware of parent and community concerns and work every day to improve every service we provide.

- Washington County Public Schools spokesman Will Kauffman

The Herald-Mail Articles