Superintendent Danny Hayes said school officials plan to work over the weekend to resolve issues that have delayed Whitfield County Schools buses by hours, caused some students to ride the wrong bus and created confusion among several families unsure of their bus stop location.
“As superintendent of Whitfield County Schools, I am embarrassed for the inconvenience and disruption of the education of our students,” Hayes said in a letter sent to parents, students and staff on Friday. “I want to assure you that the chaos over busing these last two days does not meet my expectations.”
School system spokesman Eric Beavers said several issues contributed to the problems. To save money and improve efficiency, the school system over the summer eliminated 11 routes and migrated from door-to-door stops to pickup locations that serve several students in an area. Officials planned to allow families to find their child’s bus stop through an online portal, but as of Friday afternoon, the portal wasn’t working correctly. Some users reported it was working but slow while others said it didn’t work at all.
Beavers said officials hope most of the problems will be resolved by Monday when students return. He said representatives from the vendor that manages the portal were on site working to fix the problem.
There are other problems with the software besides the bus stop locator.
“The new software uses GPS to formulate routes, and some of the smaller roads, the dead end roads that we have here in Whitfield County, aren’t registering,” Beavers said. “So those street names aren’t being pulled into the routes, and that’s what has caused some confusion at the schools is they’ll be looking for a street name and it isn’t there.”
Several parents who said their children didn’t arrive home until hours after they were supposed to on Thursday, the first day of school, reported the delays weren’t quite as bad on Friday. Southeast Whitfield High School students, for example, had to wait an hour after school to board their buses. On Thursday, students at some schools had to wait close to two hours to board after confusion about which drivers would do which routes and which students would ride which buses.
Janet Woodall said her nephew arrived home from Northwest Whitfield High School at 5:12 p.m. Friday after being dismissed at 3:30 p.m. He didn’t get home until 6:10 p.m. on the first day.
“Better than yesterday but still unacceptable,” Woodall said.
Exactly why the problems weren’t resolved before school started is unclear. Mike Ewton, who oversees the transportation department, did not immediately return calls, and Assistant Superintendent of Operations Richard Schoen through a secretary referred questions to Beavers. Beavers said transportation officials were working diligently to solve the problems but he didn’t yet have answers on some of the details related to why more testing and practice runs weren’t done ahead of time.
“We weren’t able to test it as well as we should have,” he said. “I think that, reviewing the data that they had in the computer, it looked like everything was going to go fine.”
Several parents reported the voice mail in-boxes to phone numbers they were told to call for information were full or that they weren’t getting timely responses to their emails. Beavers said officials are responding as quickly as they can, but because of the high volume of calls — the school system serves about 13,300 students — it’s taking a while.
“We just ask for families’ patience as we continue to get this fixed,” he said. “We want to provide them with great service.”
The school system is directing questions about where students’ stops are located to Amanda Jennings (firstname.lastname@example.org or 706-537-3638) for students at schools on the north end and to Sandy Kelley (email@example.com or 706-537-3635) for schools on the south end.
Aug. 10 letter
Parents, students and staff of Whitfield County Schools,
As superintendent of Whitfield County Schools I am embarrassed for the inconvenience and disruption of the education of our students. I want to assure you that the chaos over busing these last two days does not meet my expectations.
We are in the process of correcting the problem; however, it will be a process that will flow over into the weekend. It is my expectation that on Monday the majority of our problems will be resolved. Let me again reassure you that our leadership team is working to correct the mistakes and errors that have occurred.
We do know that many of you have tried to phone over the last couple of days. We have been trying to answer all calls; however, due to the number of calls it will take time to respond to all of them. We ask for your patience as we continue to recover from these routing errors.