Providence, RI Parents Upset With City's School Buses - NECN

Providence, RI Parents Upset With City's School Buses



    Several incidents in since the start of school year have many parents worried about putting their children on the bus (Published Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014)

    (NECN: Ally Donnelly, Providence, R.I.) - Six-year-old Mirabelle Meek missed the bus on her first day of school -- even though she was at the right stop.

    Her mom, Michele Meek, said, "The bus pulls over and the driver says, 'No bus today!' and I said 'oh, what? really?'"

    It turns out there was bus service that day to the Henry Barnard school in Providence, but the driver thought it was a training day so didn't pick up Mirabelle. Meek says she never saw that driver again and can chalk up the incident to first week confusion, but it is one story of many.

    "These people are not only responsible for watching your children," she said, "But for the lives of your children."

    Several parents are outraged after waiting more than an hour at the bus stop after school last Friday with no idea where the bus -- or their children were.

    "If you tell a 7-year-old child that you're lost and you don't have a phone and you can't call anyone and you're not saying anyone else it could be scary," Parent Kira Greene says.

    Greene, whose second grader was on the bus, says after getting no answers from the city's school transportation office another parent called police while she got in her car and searched for the missing bus. She found it pulled over, off route, on the side of the road. Parents say there were a dozen scared kids inside, some crying. School district spokesperson Christina O'Reilly says it was more like six or eight kids. She wouldn't talk to NECN on camera, but called the incident a fluke. She said because of scheduling conflicts with Providence Public Schools, there is no set driver for the route on Fridays which transports kids from city laboratory schools. O'Reilly says the driver got hopelessly lost after his GPS and cell phone died. She insists he was getting directions from the bus yard over the radio, but was off route because he had to double back to find the stops.

    "No child was ever in danger," she told us. "All the children were safely contained on the bus."

    Greene says that may well be, but calls the what ifs staggering. When she found the bus, the driver let her get on and she pulled her own daughter off as well as two other kids she knew. She says no one asked her for ID or checked to see if the other children were cleared to go with her -- they were not.

    "There are child custody issues there are abductions," she said."I'm not a parent to get overly worried -- it's more that it's a safety protocol that was broken."

    O'Reilly says the city is investigating, "We are certainly looking into that actively and discourage parents from jumping on and taking control of the situation like that."

    Meek says stories like these grab headlines, but she and other parents want the city to take a deeper look at the system. They insist that budget cuts are creating overcrowding on buses and routes and that kids are getting to school late every single day. Meek has helped organize a community meeting with city officials and other parents. They want to learn more about the hiring and disciplinary processes at First Student and, above all else, want accountability.

    We tried to get reaction from First Student, but the media spokesperson never returned our calls. We also did not hear back from the press coordinator from Providence Mayor Angel Tavares.