MUNROE FALLS — Around 50 people attended the Stow-Munroe Falls school board meeting Monday night at Kimpton Middle School, and more than a dozen voiced their frustrations about the busing woes in the district this school year, which began Aug. 20.

Complaints included students believed missing, students told to go on the wrong bus, bus stops changed with little or no advanced warning, buses not picking up students until after the school day started, students’ commutes home lasting more than an hour, and an overall lack of communication.

“We know from the first day there were some communications issues,” board President Kelly Toppin said. “This isn’t the first time this has happened, so we need to get to the root of the problem. The safety of the kids is important. There is no excuse and the only recourse is to move forward and resolve the problem before next year.”

The school board unanimously agreed to form a committee to evaluate the transportation services department. The committee will include board Vice President Dave Licate and board member Jason Whitacre, operations director Robert Gress and transportation services director Brandy Hollis. Superintendent Tom Bratten or a delegate will conduct the investigation, according to the resolution.

A report is expected by the school board’s Oct. 7 meeting.

“One thing I noticed is by the end of the week, my neighborhood lost faith on the busing system,” Whitacre said. “At the beginning of the school week, we had about 15 kids at the stop. Now, there’s only two or three kids.”

Board member Gerry Bettio said she felt that the issue “snowballed on social media.”

“Riding the bus is a privilege,” Bettio said. “We have a great staff, a great superintendent who makes sure the kids are taken care of. The general public should not only give the board a chance, but the administration should be given a chance to rectify the situation. Let us do our job.”

The district “fell short in a lot of areas” with busing in the first weeks of the school year, Bratten told those attending the meeting.

“It wasn’t good enough for you, it wasn’t good enough for us,” Bratten said.

Gress said the transportation department “fell short in several areas.”

“The issues we have do not come from staff; they are working their tails off,” Gress said. “The bus drivers really care about the kids. They love our kids. I saw a lot of hugs on the first day.”

The district was “late in getting communications to our families on bus changes, and we fell short in taking questions,” Gress said. “We did a lot of things that made people very unhappy.”

Gress said that parents with a complaint about busing can visit http://smfschools.org/ to fill out an online form. Clerical staff also have been assigned temporarily to the bus garage to help handle the volume of calls, he added.

There have been “some ongoing issues from last year,” Gress said.

“We had too many buses with too few kids,” he said. “We tried to make the routes more efficient and stay in the Ohio Revised Code, and school policy. There are now more students walking on streets without sidewalks. This has always been the case but it’s more than in previous years. Also, several students have longer walks.”

Parents with a child whose bus is late should call 330-689-5234 and press 1 for a status update, according to information on the district’s website.

Parents speak up

Monica Robinson, a Stow resident for eight years, said her 12-year-old son’s bus stop changed for the first time in eight years. She said this was a challenge for her son, who is on the Autism Spectrum.

“There wasn’t a single warning that bus stops were changing,” Robinson told board members. “Had there been, I would have had transportation included in his IEP. I made very clear to Noah what his bus number was to and from school according to the paper that was mailed to our home. Walking to a different stop started the day off with a challenge. At the end of the day, his intervention specialist told him him a different bus number than what I had told him. Since it was different, they sent him to the office to check and again he was told a different number. As Noah walked out to the bus, thankfully the right bus was before the wrong one. He saw neighbor kids getting on and so he rode the right one home.”

The incident, however, left her son traumatized, Robinson said.

“When he came home, he started to cry and said that school was hard with changing classes every period but riding the wrong bus would have made it hard to go back,” Robinson said. “I emailed Mrs. Hollis and received back an email that I feel was not a good enough answer. The principal and intervention specialist were both extremely apologetic. I felt that the call from the superintendent was patronizing especially to those of us who had difficult experiences. Mine had a happy ending. Others were far more traumatic.”

Robinson said she was “blasted on social media by Mrs. Hollis’ family.”

“I was then contacted through social media by Mrs Hollis,” Robinson said. “Again a very unprofessional way to handle this. I still do not have any answers as to if I need a meeting to have the stop changed back to the original place or not.”

Hollis could not be reached by press time.

Parent Pamela Wind said she “expected some bumps but this has been to an extreme I’ve never seen in all my years with this school district.”

“There are issues with transportation from start to finish right now,” Wind said. “We got the school bus notices two business days before school started. That is not enough time for working families to make arrival and departure time decisions. Those notices were incomplete and in our case they were incorrect.”

She said her high school student’s bus never arrived to pick him up. However, the Kimpton bus arrived, which picked up her daughter. Her son, Wind said, nearly boarded that bus but her husband stopped him, and wound up transporting his son and two other high school students. When she called the bus garage, she was told the pickup time was 6:41 a.m.

“On our letter, it was listed as 6:58,” she said. “Not only were the notices late and for some families incomplete, they were fictional.”

Wind said she felt there should be a parent or community member involved in the committee.

Families from area private schools bused by the Stow-Munroe Falls City School District also complained about late buses, saying their children have arrived late to school frequently. By law, public school districts must either provide transportation or offer a stipend to students living within the district who go to a non-public school. Schools Stow-Munroe Falls provides transportation for include Holy Family in Stow, Seton Catholic School in Hudson, Walsh Jesuit in Cuyahoga Falls, Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy in Cuyahoga Falls, Redeemer Christian School in Cuyahoga Falls, St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Cuyahoga Falls, Cornerstone Community School in Tallmadge, Immaculate Heart of Mary in Cuyahoga Falls, and Chapel Hill Christian School in Cuyahoga Falls.

Reporter April Helms can be reached at 330-541-9423, ahelms@recordpub.com, or @AprilKHelms_RPC