Eileen Buss began contacting the Alachua County School Board in early December 2015 after her 12-year-old daughter’s school bus– driven by a substitute driver– had to be towed out of Paynes Prairie after leaving Lincoln Middle School that November.
“It took two tow trucks to go and get that bus out of the muck,” Buss said.
This mishap occurred after the substitute driver relied on incorrect directions from a student, according to an email by Buss, an associate professor at
the University of Florida, and it resulted in an hour-and-a-half delay for students to get to their stops, she said.
The situation concerned Buss so much that she told the Alachua County School Board about it at a meeting earlier this month.
“Not only do the kids tell the drivers the wrong [stops] to go, they also make interesting stops, probably,” said Buss at the Apr. 5th meeting.
“My daughter told me last week that they’ve now figured out the system. If there’s a clueless driver, they can tell the driver where they want to be dropped off, and the driver is letting them do that.”
School officials, however, told Buss they were working to deal with the issue. Paul White, assistant superintendent for operations for Alachua County Public Schools, said they are hiring five permanent bus drivers to help minimize the use of substitute drivers, while Superintendent Owen Roberts urged the board to fix the problem.
Also, White apologized to Buss – who said she initially felt blown off by school board officials – and assured her they would talk again.
Also James Speer, director of transportation for Alachua County Public Schools, told WUFT that it asks its substitute drivers to not accept route information from students. But according to Buss, that’s not happening.
“All of the substitutes that my daughter has told me about are asking the children where the stops are,” Buss said at the meeting.“The regular bus driver is wonderful. When they have substitute bus drivers– they don’t know the routes.”
Right now, bus drivers are given a paper copy of all the stops on a specific route. Because bus drivers are not allowed to use cell phones while driving, they are also not able to access GPS directions if they are unsure about a specific stop.
New technology could possibly help resolve that issue, but it may be long in coming, said David Deas, transportation operations manager for Alachua County Public Schools.
“We are always looking for technology to better service our kids, but technology costs money,” he said.
Deas said substitute drivers are encouraged to ask questions to other bus drivers if they have concerns about a route. They also have the option to dispatch to other bus drivers while on route. Also, White said that substitute drivers, who go through the same training as permanent bus drivers, could be on a different route every day, and can be called to step in for a permanent driver up to an hour before departure.
Yet while drivers are told not to accept route information from students, it does happen, said Speer. And to Buss, that is irresponsible and wrong.
“I’m not trying to attack the school transportation system,” Buss said. “There’s some good drivers out there; I’m just trying to raise awareness about an issue that keeps coming up.”
Buss said in an email that it is irresponsible and wrong for a substitute bus driver to ask the students where their stops are.