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Mayor intervenes as parent struggles with BPS school bus

Anna Lamb
Mayor intervenes as parent struggles with BPS school bus
BPS student Ryan poses with Mayor Michelle Wu before the pair boarded a bus for Ryan's school. Photo courtesy Shamieh Wall

Shamieh Wall starts every week day wondering whether the school bus will be coming to pick up her child. And almost a quarter of the time, it hasn’t.

“I’m a working mom,” she said. “We just want service to be standard.”

Starting with the first day of school, Sept. 12, the bus stopped at the wrong house and departed without Wall’s 4-year-old daughter Ryan. The second day, the bus again stopped at the wrong house, but Wall chased it down and informed the driver of the error.

For two days, Ryan boarded the bus without incident. On Sept. 16, BPS sent a robocall saying the bus wouldn’t be coming due to staffing issues, which Wall said was inconvenient but doable, thanks to a flexible work schedule. She works at a tech firm based in downtown Boston.

“I have a very flexible job that allows me to be able to be the type of parent that I need to be. That being said, I also run a small unit now, and the demand is just different,” she said. “We’re really, really busy.”

Wall said she already takes a half-day away from the office to accommodate getting her daughter off the afternoon bus.

Ryan, a K1 student at a Dorchester school, has autism that impacts her speech. When she started at BPS as a K0 student last year, special education specialists suggested she have an adult accompany her on the school bus. Her mother agreed.

“Her ability to tell a story isn’t great,” Wall said. “Because of that, I doubted her ability to advocate for herself.”

Another week came and went with Ryan getting on the bus with no problems. But then the bus driver told Wall she would not be returning after the weekend.

“She was very stressed out,” Wall said. “And she said, ‘They don’t give me any information. Parents are mad and yelling at me. This is going to be my last week.’”

The impact was immediate — Monday and Tuesday no call came from BPS, but Ryan’s bus did not show. Wall said she tried to call BPS. She was directed to an online complaint management system, which also didn’t help.

“I went online to try to contact the right way. I couldn’t find the link,” she said.

Desperate for answers, she took to Twitter to express her frustration.

“I’m outside for 30 mins and called and found out what happened. So now I’m an hour late for work AND bringing child to school which started 6 minutes ago” a Sept. 26 tweet reads.

On Sept. 27, Wall tweeted again, tagging at-large City Councilor Julia Mejia, and Mayor Michelle Wu.

“In case you have been keeping up @BostonSchools @juliaforboston and @MayorWu again today. No bus. And no call. But every staff member explaining and excusing like the system isn’t broken,” she wrote.

Wu and Mejia then promised to help.

The next day, Wall and her daughter waited for the bus as usual. While they were waiting, Wu and Mejia showed up to wait with them. Wall said the mayor sympathized with her, chatted with her daughter, then rode the bus all the way to Dorchester alongside the little girl.

“What shocked me,” Wall said, “was when the bus came, I thought she was just going to hug me and say, ‘Glad it worked out.’ And she was like ‘Oh no, I’m going.’” 

Wu brought no press, and has declined to comment, but did send a single tweet from her personal account.

“Shout out to our bus monitors, drivers & BPS transportation team working so hard to fix any issues for the 20,500 students taking our buses everyday!” Wu’s tweet reads. “We had a safe & smooth ride getting our most precious cargo to their destination this AM.”

Mejia, who also came out Wednesday morning, announced that a hearing will be held in early November to try to address ongoing issues with school transportation.

“We believe that once you have something on the record, in writing, and you have a critical mass of parents and students who are impacted, then that sounds the alarm in terms of  urgency,” Mejia said.

She added that the problem is not a new one.

“Last school year, I was getting text messages from one particular parent every single day about [the trouble] that she was having with her daughter’s transportation,” Mejia said.

And while Wall said she’s grateful for the help she’s now receiving, she’s frustrated with the difficulty in getting assistance and that she had the issue in the first place.

“I don’t want my child to have special treatment. I want everything to work as it’s supposed to work. That’s it,” she said.

Ryan isn’t the only BPS student who has faced this issue — a CBS Boston report last week recounted the story of a Roslindale family dealing with similarly short-notice cancellations of their 3-year-old daughter JoJo’s ride to school. Jojo also has special needs and requires assistance on the bus.

The district also has struggled with getting buses to school on time, with more than 40% of buses arriving late on the first day of school this year. BPS is facing extra scrutiny in the wake of the state Department of Education threatening state takeover this summer. One condition of remediation is a school bus on-time arrival rate of 95% or better each month.

In response to requests for comment by the Banner, a BPS spokesperson sent the following statement:

“We’re taking an active approach to ensure our students get to and from school safely and we are constantly working to streamline our operations and identify any issues that need to be addressed. We know delayed buses continue to be challenging for our students and families, and are working around the clock to improve our daily bus performance. While we are not yet where we want and need to be, we will continue to work hard in service to our students and their future success. We recently hired the necessary number of drivers to cover all routes. Due to some ongoing issues related to attendance, we have had periodic uncovered buses, but there is now a driver for every bus. We do anticipate continuing to see improvement in on-time performance over the coming weeks and months ahead.”

The city council’s hearing on the school bus situation is set for Nov. 10 at 5 p.m. at City Hall. In the meantime, parents are urged to use the BPS transportation hotline at 617-635-9520, or the school’s online support portal at bostonpublicschoolshelp.freshdesk.com/support/home.

BPS, BPS buses, Mayor Michelle Wu
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