Some Dallas Independent School District parents wake up wondering if their children’s buses will show up. If they do, will they be late? Will they drop the kids off at the right location? These are questions Lauren Fazio asks herself as she readies her kids for school in the morning.
One Monday a couple of weeks ago, the bus didn’t show up for Fazio’s youngest, her 7-year-old son, in the morning or the afternoon. The next day, her youngest son’s bus showed up early, but the bus for her oldest son, an 8-year-old special education student at DISD, didn’t show up at all. That afternoon, her youngest was dropped off at the wrong address.
On Wednesday, the buses arrived late but otherwise ran without issue. But the next day, the bus was late picking up her youngest son, and no bus came for her older son.
The same morning, the phones were down at the call center for the school district’s student transportation services department, so she couldn’t reach anyone to sort out a ride for her oldest.
In all of these instances, Fazio has been lucky enough to be able to drop everything she is doing to get her children to and from school. But others don’t have this luxury. She says this is about equity.
“This is unacceptable,” Fazio says. “This needs to be fixed.”
The process for providing transportation support for students with special needs is different from providing it for general education students. For starters, school districts aren't required to provide transportation for general education students like they are for special needs students.
To get their child transportation to school, parents of special needs students must first go through what's called an Admission, Review, and Dismissal Committee meeting. The committee reviews the student’s information and determines the scope of transportation services needed.
Once it is determined what kind of assistance the child requires, the student transportation services department receives the details through DISD’s internal data systems and coordinates with the service center to provide a bus route.
Due to changes in the school year brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, parents of DISD’s special education students were told to use a Google document to provide information on their child’s transportation needs.
Fazio says this new process wasn’t well-publicized to parents and campuses, so many of them just went through the transportation department like they usually do. But if a child’s information wasn’t in the Google doc, they didn’t receive a bus route.
“So basically, you had people calling [student transportation services] looking for transport information for their students and being told that their student had no info or ‘wasn’t on the list,’” Fazio says. “Parents, caregivers and school staff were confused because they had sent requests in, sometimes multiple times.”
For two weeks, Fazio spent hours on back-and-forth calls with the transportation department, the special education department and her DISD trustee, trying to ensure her kids would have bus rides to and from school. It wasn’t until she went through all of this that she heard about the Google doc.
Eventually, her DISD trustee got her in touch with the transportation service's executive director Jaime Sandoval and getting her kids to school became a much simpler task.
“All questions, concerns, and feedback regarding student transportation have been addressed through our customer service call center and the district’s customer service portal, Let’s Talk,” the DISD transportation department said in an emailed statement to the Observer. “Any parent that has questions, concerns or feedback with their child’s transportation services can contact our customer service line at 972-925-4BUS or the district’s customer service portal at dallasisd.org/letstalk.”
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Fazio says she thinks the only reason she was able to get her issues resolved so quickly is that she made such a fuss about it, but she's used to this. Going through her social media, she says it seems every year in the two weeks leading up to school she’s posting about these transportation troubles. And she wouldn’t be the first one.
In November 2017, voters in the city said they wanted bus services to be transferred over to the school district from Dallas County Schools, which previously was responsible for student transportation but was shut down following a corruption scandal.
At the start of the next school year in 2018, the district's new bus system had some students waiting for over a half-hour before being picked up and taken to their destination, according to The Dallas Morning News.
Despite the struggles, Fazio says her children like riding the school bus, and the driver and dispatchers she's communicated with have been helpful. But, she wouldn't be surprised if she faces similar issues next year as this has become a normal occurrence in her dealings with DISD.