As if the first day back at school wasn’t challenging enough, many Lycée Français de la Nouvelle-Orléans students spent so long returning home on the charter’s school’s new bus system that parents gave up waiting for them at the bus stop, only to find out that the school was unsure where exactly the buses were for hours as well.
“It’s been an all-hands-on-deck deal,” said board chair David Amoss. “The first day was an utter disaster, but it has gotten better since then. … What happened that week is completely unacceptable to anyone at the school or on this board.”
Lycee and other charter schools that are authorized directly by the state were all mandated to begin offering bus service this year to all of their students who live within the parish where the school is located. Roughly one third of Lycee’s nearly 950 students signed up, so the school hired the Kids First bus company to manage its seven routes.
Although Lycee had been phasing in bus service to limited locations over the past few years, last Wednesday’s start of school was the first test of the citywide system. Even though the school administration tried to get a head start on dismissal, the buses arrived late, and loading them took so long that they left an hour late, officials said.
“That first week was just crazy,” said development director Toni Smith during Monday’s meeting of the school’s governing board. “The bus was an hour late. You can’t come back from that.”
Parents waited so long at the bus stops that they begin to believe that the bus had skipped them, so they left to try to find their child and the bus. When the bus finally arrived at the stop, they saw no parents there, so they did not stop and the children had to remain on the bus until the end of the route.
“Parents thought the bus had passed already, so they didn’t wait at the stop,” said CEO Marina Schoen. “Kind of a domino effect.”
“Kids sat on a really hot bus for up to two hours,” Amoss said. “They started late, and each stop got later and later and later.”
Calls to the school office were no help to parents, meanwhile, as the school could not track the individual buses either.
“One of my major concerns is that, although there is a dispatcher, the school was unable to contact the dispatcher,” said Lilly Schmidt, a parent whose child spent hours on the bus the first week. “There were lots of concerning things, but no one from the school could get in touch with anyone from the bus company, even though they were all trying.
“Nobody was rude or unkind or unprofessional,” Schmidt continued. “It’s just for that period of time, not knowing where my kids were, was a little bit alarming.”
The second day of school also involved long waits, parents and administrators said, but the school began getting a handle on the issues afterward. Drivers were instructed to stay at each stop for more precise amounts of time, for example.
“Every day, the challenge that we have, we focus on the challenge of that day,” said Lycee CEO Marina Schoen.
By Monday of this week, the school was no longer receiving complaints from parents about the buses, Schoen said. Amoss said he had a meeting this week with the bus company’s leadership to continue ironing out the problems, including presenting dozens of questions sent to him by the school parents’ association.
“The end goal is to get a bus system that fits our image, and I think we’re progressing towards that,” Amoss said. “But it doesn’t excuse what happened the first two days.”