LAWRENCE: Parent calls for review of transportation policies after communication snafu

By James McEvoy, Special Writer
LAWRENCE — Phil Kearns thought he was living every worst parent’s nightmare on Oct. 12 when his wife called him, saying that two strangers approached her and their 9-year-old daughter informing them they would be taking over their bus route beginning the next morning.
Mr. Kearns told members of the Board of Education at their Oct. 14 meeting that though he had received a brief note from the district that his daughter’s route would be changing, he was given no indication the change would involve a third-party transportation company.
School officials eventually that evening confirmed a company had been contracted, though Mr. Kearns said initial attempts to reach the district, by both himself and police, were unsuccessful.
“I wonder why this wasn’t communicated to me two or three weeks ago, how can you not think about what the process was and about the pieces I’m picking up because my daughter told me after the cops left, ‘Dad, there’s somebody trying to kidnap me?’ ” Mr. Kearns said.
Superintendent Crystal Edwards and Business Administrator Thomas Eldridge, who addressed the matter at length earlier in the meeting, apologized and promised a review of district transportation policies and procedures was underway.
“The (initial) communication (to parents) didn’t meet our standards in that it did not address the parents and it did not allow the parents to adequately address their own needs in terms of what they needed to do to prepare their students for transportation,” Mr. Eldridge said.
The route change was due to construction and impacted nine students, Mr. Eldridge said, adding that the district now intends to lease a bus that will be operated by a district employee. The third-party transportation company was hired after the district was unable to find a school bus company willing to take on the route, he added.
“Our expectation is that we have seamless communication; that we announce in advance and manage parents’ expectations and we failed to do that and that’s very troubling,” Mr. Eldridge said. “It is important for us to restore confidence. My confidence is not fully restored and I can only say that I’m working to make sure it is restored.”
Though he praised Mr. Eldridge’s efforts in the days following the incident, Mr. Kearns said the lack of communication amounted to “gross negligence” and also questioned why he was unable to initially reach school officials, including Lawrence Intermediate School Principal Cynthia Westhead.
In addition, he offered a litany of questions as to the district’s policies with third-party transportation vendors, including how private family data is handled, whether background checks are executed on employees and how insurance is handled.
“I’m asking for you to look at the process, outline all the mistakes that were made and put the correct process in place,” said Mr. Hearns, who was critical of Ed Treadway, transportation supervisor for the district.
“He put the safety of our kids at risk,” Mr. Hearns told the board. “This was more than something going wrong. This was somebody not doing their job.” 