Moving bus stops due to snowy roads frustrate SD2 parents

2010-12-02T17:45:00Z 2011-02-07T12:16:15Z Moving bus stops due to snowy roads frustrate SD2 parents

By ROB ROGERS

Of The Gazette Staff

The Billings Gazette
December 02, 2010 5:45 pm  • 

Brooke Zabrocki is tired of watching kids walk up and down her street trying to figure out where their school bus is going to stop.

“This is a safety issue,” she said.

The school bus that services Zabrocki's Heights neighborhood moved its stop after the near-record snow that dumped on Billings last weekend made some city streets impassable. The bus kept getting stuck on Zabrocki's road.

Zabrocki's daughter, a fifth-grader at Bench Elementary, found her way to the new stop — a walk of a few blocks. But the younger students had trouble.

At one point, Zabrocki said she stood with two kindergarten or first-grade students after they'd been dropped off until their parents came and found them.

“There's no communication,” she said.

Busing for Billings School District 2 is provided by the private transportation company First Student. Ron Messman, contract manager for First Student in Billings, acknowledged that the storm has caused problems with bus pickups.

The company's policy usually is to contact the school the night before if a stop is going to be moved. He said the school then has the responsibility to contact the families. They also tell students directly.

Up until the storm hit, the policy worked, he said. “But this has just been totally unusual.”

Zabrocki said she realizes last week's storm was massive and atypical for Billings in November.

“I get that,” she said. “I understand.”

But as of Wednesday, students in her neighborhood still didn't know if they were supposed to go to the new bus stop or the regular one.

That's a problem, she said.

Kathy Olson, director of elementary education for SD2, said individual bus drivers have the responsibility of deciding where they'll pick up their students if they can't get to their regular stops. Those decisions are often made while the driver is on the route.

For that reason, the district has no good way of notifying parents when a stop has been changed, she said.

Like Messman, Olson acknowledged the scope and rarity of the storm and said it has forced administrators in the district to look at amending the policy.

“The reality is kids should be safe,” she said.

As a first step, the district is sending home newsletters this month that advise parents to wait with their children at bus stops until the bus arrives.

Zabrocki would like to see communication improve among First Student, the school district and parents. She'd also like to see the city plow streets on which there are bus stops.

“They're kids,” she said.

Contact Rob Rogers at rrogers@billingsgazette.com or 657-1231.

Contact Rob Rogers at rrogers@billingsgazette.com or 657-1231.

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