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JCPS cancels school after first day “transportation disaster”

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Photo courtesy of the Courier Journal
The last bus riders were not dropped off at their stop until almost 10 pm on the first day in JCPS.

The first day of school for many JCPS students was a long one, with buses still dropping students off as late as 9:58 pm. In the early morning of Aug. 10, Superintendent Marty Pollio announced that school would be canceled on both Thursday, Aug. 10 and Friday Aug. 11, after the introduction of the district’s Start Smart Initiative resulted in many busing issues for JCPS. Pollio then held a press conference on Saturday to announce that school would also be canceled the following Monday and Tuesday.

During another press conference regarding the return to school on the night of Monday, Aug. 14, Pollio outlined his plan for a staggered start.

“On Friday, Aug. 18, all elementary and middle school students will return to school. We will then have the weekend to make any adjustments, and then on Monday, Aug. 21 we will bring all of our high school students back. So by next Monday all of our students will be back in session; all three levels will be back for the rest of the year,” Pollio said.

Back in March, JCPS approved the Start Smart Initiative, which was intended to resolve previous busing issues caused by the lack of bus drivers. This plan organized every school in the district into one of nine new different start times. For instance, some schools, like Manual, still start at 7:40 am like past years. However, other schools like Noe Middle, which used to start at 7:40 am, now begin class an hour later at 8:40 am. These nine new different start times range from 7:40 am to 10:40 am.

JCPS collaborated with Dynamic Ideas, a textbook company, to design the new bus routes and start times using artificial intelligence and MIT algorithms. However, the software initiative did not work as hoped. Out of the 68,000 students that ride the bus in Jefferson County, at least several hundred are estimated to have gotten home later than they were supposed to. This caused frustration among parents, kids and bus drivers.

Jumana Khammas, a Manual freshman, said that she was on the bus for almost three hours after school.

“When we were driving, the bus stops [the bus driver] had were incorrect, the kids would tell him that the bus stops were a street behind them or in front of them. We left Manual at 2:30 pm and I came home at almost 5 pm,” Khammas said. “It was a lot.”

Elementary and middle school students also dealt with lots of change on the first day. Elizabeth Hatchett, the parent of two JCPS students, had to switch her 4th grader to a new school because her family couldn’t accommodate his original school’s new start time of 9:40 am. 

My middle schooler did not arrive home from the bus until 7:45 pm. Despite the new schools and the inherent challenges involved with new routines, my children both had great first days,” Hatchett said. 

Following Pollio’s cancellation of school last Thursday and Friday, he posted a video apologizing for the difficulties faced by JCPS staff, bus drivers and families.

“I saw some incredible instruction, kids excited, families excited, new school buildings, and to have it end with the transportation disaster that we had last night was truly unacceptable and once again I apologize for that,” Pollio said.

Although many schools had students waiting hours for buses, Manual was able to utilize the school’s activity bus to transport the remaining students home.

“I am grateful to our faculty and students for a great first day of instruction. However, I am even more grateful to all faculty, students and parents who assisted duPont Manual in closing our day successfully,” Newman said in a statement to Manual RedEye.

Dynamic Ideas is the parent company of another organization called AlphaRoute, which worked with Columbus City School District (CCS) to devise a new transportation system similar to the one JCPS has just implemented. However, the Columbus district never changed school start times under the plan. After just a few months under AlphaRoute, the district had to return to their old transportation system.

“The district faced difficulties due to the national driver shortage and experienced continued challenges in managing all bus routes efficiently,” Jacqueline Bryant, Executive Director of Communications at CCS said.

According to Carolyn Callahan, Chief of Communications, JCPS has previously talked with CCS about their experience with AlphaRoute.

As a result of the current busing issues and public distress, United Postal Service (UPS) has offered to step in to redesign the plan and create an effective system to get students home safely and on time.

“UPS has a long history of working with Jefferson County Public Schools on programs like the district’s Academies of Louisville, so it’s natural we would want to offer assistance. We are continuing to consult with JCPS’s transportation team, offering insights and best practices on GPS usage and route design. JCPS is sharing routing information on some of the most delayed bus routes and we are looking at ways the district may be able to optimize them,” Jim Mayer, Senior Director of Media Relations at UPS said in a statement responding to an interview request.

JCPS is now in the midst of a staggered return to school; elementary and middle schools returned on Friday, Aug. 19 and high schools are scheduled to return on Monday, Aug. 21.

To learn more about the previous bus driver shortage that led to the Start Smart Initiative, visit this story written by Grace Fridy.

About the Contributor
Kaelin Gaydos, Editor in Chief
Kaelin Gaydos is the Editor In Chief of Manual RedEye. You can contact her at [email protected].
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    G-MomAug 25, 2023 at 8:03 am

    Great article Kaelin – we continue to be proud of you & your writings.

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