Bussed students misplaced on first day of school

South Elementary School teachers are pictured here at the middle school where there help shuttle students from one bus to another.

The 2012-13 school year opened with concern for the parents of six South Elementary School students  who were temporarily misplaced on Sept. 4 and Sept. 5.

The students, according to Palmer Bus Service officials, had gotten on the wrong buses.

The first day’s misplacement led to South Elementary Principal Greg Finck implementing an extra measure to help prevent such occurrences.

The age of South Elementary students, and the fact that some of them are not used to school buses, can lead to more risk in the early days of the school year of their ending up on the wrong bus, Finck said.

The bus barn was swamped with calls the Sept. 4 afternoon when the six children didn’t arrive home as planned, said Tim Wilhelm, manager of Palmer’s bus terminal in Princeton.

None of the misplacements were a case of a child being let off the bus at the wrong place. The children were on the wrong bus when it came time to take them home. The situation led Finck to come up with an additional measure to help prevent more such incidents.

What he devised was to have teachers fill out slips with the names of students who are to be dropped off on the way to the middle school transfer site in the afternoon. The paper slip is also to contain the child’s bus number and bus animal name and the child is to hand that slip to the bus driver while boarding the bus.

The idea is for the bus driver to work on associating the child’s name with their face, said Finck. The driver will also note the number of slips so they will know if they have dropped off that many children while heading to the middle school, Finck added.

Finck said he expects to continue using the slips through today (Sept. 13). By then, the bus drivers should have memorized those kids’ faces and names to associate with their drop off points, Finck said.

It takes time to learn all the South Elementary children riding the buses in those first few days of school, Finck said. He explained that the elementary phases in the number of kindergarteners attending school until the second Friday of the school year.

Wilhelm adds details

One case of a child getting on the wrong bus involved a child getting onto the giraffe bus instead of the rabbit bus, Wilhelm said. The two buses were parked next to each at the middle school transfer site, Wilhelm noted.

The time it took for the child to get home was made worse, Wilhelm said, by the fact that the giraffe route is in the southern part of the district, far from the rabbit bus route in the school district’s northern part.

Wilhelm explained the procedure for when a parent calls in that their child has not arrived home as planned: A bus terminal staff member calls the bus where the child is supposed to be and asks the driver if the child is on that bus. The driver has to stop the bus, shut off the engine and walk through the bus to thoroughly check to see if the child is on there. If the child is not on there, then an all-call is made to the rest of the 30-plus bus fleet, which requires all drivers to stop their buses and make the check, Wilhelm said.

In this case, the giraffe bus driver found the child that was supposed to have been on the rabbit bus, Wilhelm explained. Adding to the worry for the affected parents is that the problem may not get noticed until 20 to 30 minutes into a bus route, Wilhelm added.

Wilhelm also noted that in one misplacement case last week, a child got off the correct bus and went with a friend onto another bus.

Asked if there is anything Wilhelm had in mind to try to prevent or reduce such misplacements, he answered: “We’ve got to be more diligent about drivers associating a name with a face.” That can take a bit of time when the bus has 70 riders, Wilhelm said.

Finck noted that South Elementary instructors have planned to be at the middle school transfer site during the first two weeks of the school year to help any of their students get on the right go-home buses. The middle school will have student leaders help get the job done in succeeding weeks, Finck noted.

The misplaced students was not the only problem the bus operation had on the opening day of the school year in Princeton.

One of the brand new school buses that had been driven up from Tulsa, Okla., to be part of the fleet, stopped dead on a morning route because of a defective alternator. That resulted in another bus having to be driven out to the stopped bus to take over the rest of the route, Wilhelm said. That caused a 25 minute delay in getting to the school.

Wilhelm also talked about a large number of students not being registered on time for school bus routes this year. That means that when those registrations are finally made, the schedule for each house can end up altered because of the numbers of stops on a route could change.

While the first two days of the new school year were difficult for those parents who didn’t see their children come home at the time originally planned, the following two days of busing that first week went smooth, with no misplacements, Finck reported.

One additional note about the cases of misplaced children has to do with comments that Heather Sasse posted on Facebook.

“When my child finally arrived at the bus company, my child, among many others, were released without a signature or a check of an ID,” Sasse wrote. “Huge safety concern and unacceptable. At minimum they should have been documenting the children who were missing and require a signature by a legal guardian before releasing children.”

When told about Sasse’s comments, Wilhelm responded that Principal Finck was present when the children were released, but Wilhelm added that Sasse has a point and that he would visit with Finck about her concerns.