While returning to school Thursday, Mansfield pre-K through 8 students were faced with major bus delays.
M&J Bus, which transports students in the school district, said four buses didn't run in the afternoon and as a result, students who take buses 1, 4, 8, and 9 had to wait at school until other buses became available.
Delays were anticipated to exceed an hour following dismissal. The bus company said the cancellation of some buses is because of driver shortages.
"This is extremely disappointing news and we apologize. While other runs will follow projected schedules, we understand that the families of these buses will experience significant delays," Superintendent Peter Dart said in a statement.
Dart made the decision to cancel classes on Wednesday. He wrote to parents Tuesday night, saying, in part, "I do not have confidence that our carrier can meet our expectations and minimize travel times for our students."
Dart said there were issues with the bus company communicating about critical issues and as a result, all students, with the exception of high schoolers, would not have school Wednesday.
Parents reported significant delays, with some students not getting off the school bus until 6 p.m.
Jon Hipsher, chief operating officer of M&J Bus, said he disagreed with the superintendent's letter and called it a "mischaracterization."
"It can’t be any further from the truth. We have had a wonderful working relationship with this district for over six years now. We need some time just to improve on the routes, get accustomed to them, deal with the shortage," said Hipsher. "It’s not easy, but I couldn’t be more proud of our drivers yesterday afternoon and every day up there. They were poised, they were calm, they were collected, and they were safe.”
Hipsher said there were several reasons for the delays, including the fact that it was the first day of school and dismissal is normally slower. He also said that drivers were dealing with new routes due to the closure of an elementary school as the district builds a new one.
M&J Bus also pointed to the ongoing statewide bus driver shortage. Mansfield is down two bus drivers right now. With little ability to pull drivers from other districts, the bus company had to collapse some routes.
"The positive news is that we have a couple of drivers that have permits, that are in training, that we are hopeful are going to test in a few weeks," Hipsher said.
In the letters to parents from the Mansfield principals, they said they met with Dart and were told that the central office had a productive day working on addressing identified concerns with M&J Bus. According to the letters, Dart will share more information with parents regarding bus schedules.
"Today, we moved forward by continuing to vet data, review procedures to maximize efficiencies, communicate with the bus vendor, and create additional resources and tools that will be used to help improve communication and accountability," Dart said in a statement.
Hipsher said that his team communicated updated routes with the school district today, which he described as a typical first week of school practice. He asked for patience from families as his team continues to update routes and improve times.
"We always appreciate their patience," Hipsher said. "And the ones who were super late yesterday, definitely an apology there. No intent on that. We will not sacrifice one thing to get these kids home safely."
While it's uncertain, Dart said he anticipates bus delays Friday as well due to the bus driver shortage. He's encouraging families to pick up their children, if possible.
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