RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Weeks into the start of the new school year and some Wake County special needs students and their parents have concerns with transportation. The problem involves the school system’s vendors, Student Transportation of America or STA.
“I was thinking that they didn’t care,” Cole Kiesler, a 9th grader at Vernon Malone College and Career Academy said.
Cole took it personally when the minivan he relied on to get him to and from school didn’t show up on the first day, or the days after that.
“I was dropped off at 8:15 a.m. I was like an hour late,” Cole said. “That’s like an hour late to your first class,” Rita, his mom, explained.
Cole has autism, so consistency and routines are important.
“It has been a lot of chaos, actually,” Rita said.
She said she’s called Wake County Schools and STA several times but to no avail.
“We’ve had basically, I want to say three days of consistency at this point,” Rita explained.
She said her son started school early this year, back on August 9th. It’s an issue that’s impacted hundreds of families.
In a statement, STA said:
“Less than a week before school started it became evident that 125 people of the 340 people we hired and trained had no intention of working for our company as was reflected by inaccurate contact information provided to our staff. This clearly left us shorthanded, however, since that time we have hired and trained new employees, on-boarded more than 100 new drivers, and now have all routes covered and enhanced our bench strength with approximately 20 back up drivers. We remain in constant communication with Wake County Schools and continue to work hand-in-hand with them on a daily basis. They keep us informed on any additional changes that need to be made and upon receiving that information, we take action immediately. We sincerely thank the public for its patience throughout the process and understand there is still some work to do. We will continue to make enhancements and build on the recent momentum continuing to make strides while providing safe transportation to the community.”Denis Gallagher Jr., STA’s VP of Southeast Operations
“It’s been very busy. It is taken a lot of time management. But its been decent because I’ve been keeping in contact with the parents,” Tracey Pope, one of the new bus drivers said.
In a statement, Wake County Schools said:
We want to provide you with an update regarding vendor transportation. To say we’ve faced challenges this year would be an understatement. Last week, we shared an update with families who were affected by a shortage of drivers. Since that update, we have been monitoring service levels closely. While we can report that service has been restored for most families, we regret to report that it has not been restored for all. This is unacceptable for you and it is unacceptable for us. Resolving this issue continues to be our top priority. We’ve met with the Special Education Advisory Council to better understand the impact of this issue on students and families and worked towards some immediate steps to improve communication with parents as we work on a resolution.
Specifically, we are:
- Gathering real-time data from schools regarding arrival and departure of students serviced by vendor transportation;
- Prioritizing the investigations of each instance where schools are reporting that drivers are not transporting students to school in the morning or arriving to school for pick-up in the afternoon.
- Implementing a customer-service call center by the end of the month dedicated specifically to vendor transportation so that parents can reach WCPSS Transportation staff directly and quickly.
In the meantime, we are asking that you call your school if your driver is not picking your child up as an additional way to help us monitor the service you deserve. We have instructed schools to contact WCPSS Transportation staff immediately if they receive a call from you so we can begin investigating.
We will continue to provide updates with you as progress is made.
Dee Luttrell, Director, Vendor Transportation
“We are all hopeful that you follow through with what you’ve put out there. That you set up regular communication to let parents know what is going on in terms of their transportation,” Rita said.
“I’m still worried that one day it might change again and I’ll have to wait long,” Cole said.
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