I used to think that when I put my kindergartener on the bus in the morning, he would get to school safely and without incident. We live in Great Valley School District. We have a great neighborhood. I’ve worked in local school for the last 13 years. Nothing can happen around here. Right? Last school year my 6 year old was transported from our home in Malvern to his wonderful kindergarten at Goshen Friends School in West Chester. He spent the first 8 months of school in a small Krapf bus with a dependable driver and nothing but positive things to say about his bus experience. In April we were notified that he was being switched from a small bus to a minivan. I’m sure the need to decrease spending was at the center of this issue and busing in-district private school kids to their schools can be a huge expense for districts. I’ve always worked in a school and I understand the need to cut costs. The first day that our minivan arrived, my husband had to remind the driver that the children needed to be wearing seatbelts. He observed that the 2nd grader in the middle of the back seat was wearing an extremely loose fitting lap (not shoulder) belt. That probably would not restrain him in the event of an accident. My husband sorted out the seatbelt situation on the minivan (himself) and off went the minivan. About three weeks later, my son and I were hanging out at my daughter’s soccer practice. We were on the playground. He says – “Mom, I don’t like it when the minivan driver goes into that store.” I tried to contain my reaction. “He goes into a store every day and we aren’t sure what he gets. He never gets us doughnuts.” I asked a few questions without freaking out completely. “Does he do this everyday?” Yes. “What does he buy?” I don’t know. “Is the van locked?” I don’t know. “Is the van running?” I don’t know. “What do you do while you’re in the van?” We talk about what he’s buying.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I told my husband who just shook his head in disbelief. Early the next morning I started my phone calls. The minivan fleet is owned by Norcross Transportation – who has a contract with Great Valley School District. I called there first and asked their policy on leaving kids alone in vans. The woman who answered my call stated that they do not allow it. I called the Great Valley Transportation office next. Their head guy was out on vacation. I received an email from Great Valley who stated that the minivan driver admitted to stopping once for a “bathroom emergency.” (FYI: Krapf bus drivers are never allowed to leave their kids for ANY reason. EVER. They risk immediate termination). I asked my son how often his bus driver stopped and he told me “everyday.” I talked to the mother of the other two children on the minivan during these minimart pitstops and both of her kids (a 5th grader and 2nd grader) agreed that their driver stopped daily for the three weeks that he had been driving them - at the Sunoco minimart and gas station on Boot Road in West Chester. I reported my findings back to Great Valley School District. Who informed me that the matter had been handled. And they believed the driver who said it happened only once. They didn’t believe the kids (all three) who had ridden the van for the last three weeks. I insisted on a new driver and got one. But my husband and I still saw the old driver picking up kids on a different route. (Because isn’t this what we do? We take adults that we are uneasy about – who are dishonest or worse - and we move them to a different location where parents are unsuspecting and trusting?)
If you live in the Great Valley School District and your kids are bused to a private or parochial school in a Norcross minivan, I’d re-assess their transportation. Don’t take their safety for granted. These drivers don’t appear to receive much safety training and their minivans are outfitted with old and stretched out seatbelts. Our former Sunoco-pitstop driver is probably still driving for Norcross. Maybe he was just guilty of being clueless and the victim of a nonexistent training program. Who knows?
Fortunately for us, my now first grader is riding a Krapf bus to his Sugartown elementary school. This was a big wake call for me as a parent. I need to trust my gut more. (A van driver who doesn’t know a 6 year old is supposed to be buckled in? Not ok). And why out of the three kids on that minivan did only my son speak up? Was there some sort of threat – implied or otherwise – made by the driver?
This happened in April of 2012. I’ve written my share of emails and made quite a few phone calls about this since then. But this week – at a soccer practice for my daughter – I was talking to a mom whose first grader was being transported on a minivan from their Malvern home to Saint Peter and Paul. The mom mentioned that her daughter didn’t get on the minivan the first day it came to their house because she and her daughter both were immediately uneasy with the van and the driver when he pulled up. I told her our story. And I realized I need to let other Great Valley parents know this. Vet that minivan driver and the vehicle carefully before letting your child on the van.