At least two Longview ISD mothers say they were still waiting Tuesday for answers from the district after their students were bused to the wrong address after the first day of school — with strangers ensuring the children made it home.
One of the children is a 3-year-old in the Head Start program at the East Texas Montessori Prep Academy, said his mother, Yasmin Estrada. The other is a 6-year-old at Hudson PEP Elementary School.
“I’m just glad someone saw him and a good person found him,” said Teiona Halton, who said her son, Tristian Wooten, was missing for hours before a woman found him at a “random” mobile home park where he had been dropped by the bus. The child was able to tell the woman who found him what street he lived on, and she drove there and let him scan for a home he recognized.
“He was lucky,” Halton said.
Longview ISD’s transportation policy states bus drivers may not drop students in grades pre-K through three off at a location unless the parent, a responsible adult or older sibling are there to meet the child. If none of those people are present, policy states the student should be taken to the district’s bus barn so the parents can be contacted.
Estrada didn’t know her son, Lincoln Flores, had been left at the wrong location until she got a phone call from a number she didn’t recognize Monday afternoon.
She said LISD had called on Sunday to confirm her son’s bus information. The child was going to her husband’s aunt’s home after school.
“She was outside waiting for him, and she kept telling me he’s still not here,” Estrada said, but she wasn’t worried, telling the aunt that it was the first day and probably chaotic. Her son got out of school at 2 p.m. Monday, and she said the district had told her he would arrive at his aunt’s house about 2:30 or 2:45. But he wasn’t there at 3:30.
Then, the phone rang, and a woman who was speaking broken English tried to tell Estrada about the bus dropping Lincoln at her house. Estrada speaks Spanish and was able to communicate with the woman.
Estrada said the correct address where her son was supposed to be dropped off and her phone number were on an ID tag on her son’s backpack. She said he was left at the wrong address on the wrong street.
Estrada said the woman who called her described the bus driver honking several times to get someone to come out, but she didn’t go outside because she wasn’t expecting a child. When she saw the bus leaving the boy, she tried to tell the bus driver he didn’t belong there. There was a communication barrier, and the bus driver drove off, Estrada said the woman told her.
Estrada, who kept her son home Tuesday, said the 3-year-old was terrified.
“I want to cry. You don’t want to see your baby like that,” she said.
Longview ISD officials did not respond until almost 7:30 p.m. Tuesday to to the News-Journal’s repeated efforts to give the district an opportunity to comment on parents’ concerns. Social media posts indicate other parents also experienced trouble with buses on Monday, with some praising the efforts of a transportation employee for helping them.
The district sent the News-Journal the same email it distributed to district parents Tuesday night about the bus situation. It said Longview ISD “is working aggressively to remedy issues of scheduling and logistics that occurred with some of the district’s school buses on the first day of school.”
In the statement, Wayne Guidry, LISD assistant superintendent of business, transportation, and technology, said some complications are expected at the start of a new school year, but “we do not accept anything less than 100 percent when it comes to the safe, timely departure and arrival of all our students.”
“Many of us in administration are parents as well, and we completely understand how stressful and alarming this can be to our students and their families,” he said. “We do not accept even a single student being brought home late, or to the wrong location.”
In the statement, Guidry confirmed two students were dropped off at wrong locations, including one who had been accidentally placed on the wrong bus. He also said a few LISD students arrived home later than anticipated for the first day of school. He did not address how the second child was left at the incorrect address.
“We are looking into the specific causes of these errors and delays on day one, and we’re working to correct these issues so they do not continue,” he said. “We’ve already seen many of these issues corrected (Tuesday), with some routes being completed ahead of schedule on the second day of school.”
In July, the district’s board of trustees approved spending $37,827 with Zonar Systems for an app that makes it possible for parents to track students while they’re on the bus.
Guidry said the system has been installed on the buses, and “once we finalize our student rosters we will be able to distribute cards.”
“Soon we hope that the ‘Z Pass’ application will help our families keep track of their students once they are on the school bus,” he said. “While we’re seeing improvements in transportation from previous years, we still believe that significant improvements can be made.”
“We want our community to know that we hear and share their concerns. Longview ISD is committed to remedying these issues in a comprehensive and timely manner,” Guidry said.
Halton said her son wasn’t supposed to have been placed on a bus until next week, when he would be going to a daycare after school. She said she had communicated that to a teacher who stood in for her son’s teacher on meet the teacher night, but the message apparently wasn’t relayed. Still, she wasn’t worried when she tried to pick him up at school Monday and learned he had been placed on a bus. She assumed he was placed on the bus to the daycare he would attend, but he never showed up.
She said she learned later he had been placed on the wrong bus.
Halton said her mother went to the bus barn and looked through buses in case the child had fallen asleep on the bus. Bus barn employees also radioed bus drivers trying to find him, but none of the drivers reported having had Tristian on their bus.
She said the place he was dropped off was a “random location,” and not where she had indicated on paperwork she filed with the district.
Her son told her an assistant on the bus helped him get off with his backpack and lunch box.
“I’m wondering what adult they saw when they did this,” she said, describing how her son told her he didn’t see anybody he knew and started crying.
Halton said her son arrived home after 7 p.m.
“I’m so thankful to her, that she was a Christian lady, that she cared enough,” Halton said of the woman who brought her son home.
Halton tried to get answers about what happened by going Tuesday morning to Hudson PEP. She said she’ll be filing a complaint against a school official there who she said was patronizing and wouldn’t look at her while she was trying to speak to her, as well as a complaint against the bus driver.
Halton said she later spoke to Guidry.
She described him as being kind and sympathetic when she told him about her son crying on the way to school Tuesday morning, but she said she’s not happy with the district’s response so far.
“This needs to be fixed, and this is not OK,” Halton said.