NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - Thursday was the second round of ‘first day of school’ for students in New Hanover County attending in-person instruction for the first time this fall.
The district is operating on an AA//BB schedule where one group attends in person on Mondays and Tuesdays and the other attends in person on Thursdays and Fridays.
After only one day, Cherelle Miller says she’s considering keeping her 6th grade student, Markeem, home for fully virtual learning because despite wanting him in class in person, she fears his bus stop is unsafe.
Markeem was put out at the wrong stop on the wrong side of Kerr Avenue after school on Monday.
Miller usually gets home from work a bit after her son gets home from school but she left early Monday to be there to greet him after his first day.
She watched as her son and another child crossed six lanes of traffic including a median to get to the right side.
“Luckily, somebody stopped and everybody paid attention but that could just go so wrong so fast," she said. "I don’t want to chance it.”
Miller says she filled out her children’s forms correctly, but Markeem was still told to exit the bus at the wrong stop. One of her other children still hasn’t received a school bus assignment as requested.
Markeem’s correct stop is on the other side of Kerr Avenue at the entrance to the neighborhood where they live; however, she’s still concerned with children being dropped off along such a busy road and then having to walk a much longer distance to get home.
“There’s a lot of panhandling on Kerr Avenue, she said. "There’s homeless people, the cars are going 40-plus miles per hour and I just feel like it’s not safe for a kids' bus stop.”
The district has shortened routes and eliminated some bus stops to make up time needed for additional routes. Bus capacity is reduced because of COVID-19 safety regulations, so drivers are running additional, but shorter, routes with fewer stops. The district is not utilizing more of a ‘community bus stop’ model with the goal of no child having to walk more than 0.5 miles home and Assistant Superintendent Eddie Anderson says they strive for elementary school children to be dropped off even closer to home.
Anderson says the district will consider stop requests and accommodations in about two weeks.
For now, he says the priority is getting some students who still don’t have transportation assigned to bus routes.
“We will definitely look at expanding services and also the requests and concerns that are being expressed today," Anderson said. "We’re going to look at that. Our priority right now and our priority over the first two weeks, again, is to make sure that all students are assigned and then once we know all students are assigned and these are the routes, we can take a look at some of the stop requests and see if we can accommodate them but until we get all these students assigned and their routes running smoothly, we’ve just got to stick with the stops that are posted.”
Miller says she’s reached out to the school board and the principal at her son’s school and is urging them to at least move the stop away from Kerr Avenue and into the neighborhood.
“Just treat my kids as if they were your kids," she said. "You know, don’t expect nothing out of me as a parent that you wouldn’t want done to your kids yourself. If you don’t want your kids standing out on Kerr Avenue, I don’t want my child standing out on Kerr Avenue either.”
“If we feel that it’s unsafe, then we’ll certainly make that change but like I said, I think for the most part we feel like they are safe and it’s allowing us to get students to school on time and we’ll consider some additional changes once we’re up and running smoothly,” Anderson said.
Anderson says routes have been running on time and getting kids to school, which was a major challenge at the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year.
While Charelle Miller values Markeem’s in-person education, she says his safety is more important and she says they may choose to continue virtual learning if he can’t be dropped off at a safer bus stop.
“I mean, these are our kids and nobody wants to get a bad phone call and I’m definitely not going to put my son or anybody...I wouldn’t put anybody’s kids in the situation where they could get a bad phone call,” Miller said.
You can find New Hanover County Schools transportation information here.