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JCPS students missing more instruction under new transportation plan

School buses line up outside of The Academy @ Shawnee on the first day of school for Jefferson County Public Schools.
J. Tyler Franklin
School buses line up outside of The Academy @ Shawnee on the first day of school for Jefferson County Public Schools.

Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Marty Pollio told the school board he was optimistic students are missing less instruction time than last year. Data obtained by LPM News shows they're missing four times more.

Missed instruction time for students in JCPS has nearly quadrupled compared to last year due to bus delays, according to data obtained by LPM News.

The finding conflicts with previous statements made by Pollio, who has said he was “confident” that despite the widespread busing issues, JCPS students are missing less instruction time than last year.

At September’s Jefferson County Board of Education meeting, Pollio told board members that students missed an average of 13.5 minutes a day due to bus delays for the first 21 days of the school year.

“I think that's a significant improvement over last year,” he told the board, though he also said the district did not have the data to make a comparison and couldn’t “guarantee” his “feeling” that this year is better.

But through a records request, LPM obtained data from JCPS for the same time period last year showing that JCPS students missed an average of 3.5 minutes of instructional time — meaning that average has increased by 10 minutes this year.

Arriving every day after the morning bell

Under the new transportation plan, some students arrive at school after the bell rings every single day.

Waggener High School ninth grader Allyn Daye catches his bus in a neighborhood near Algonquin Park. He usually arrives 10 minutes after first period has already started.

“I mean if I can’t come to class on time I’m going to miss out on half my work, and now I got to do that in like different periods,” Daye said.

Daye said it’s stressful and affecting his grades. His bus isn’t even usually the last bus to get to Waggener.

“I think it’s a bus that comes later than ours,” he said.

Grace Kanku is a 10th grader who rides that bus. She catches a ride at her stop in St. Matthews.

Kanku said she misses the first 10-15 minutes of her English class every day. It’s not affecting her grades, but it does mean she’s hungry. By the time she gets to school, she said the breakfast is picked over.

“It’s mostly Pop-Tarts, and I don’t like Pop-Tarts,” Kanku said. She said she’d like to get to school at least 10 minutes before the morning bell, so she can get hot food, talk with friends and settle in.

According to Waggener Principal Sarah Hitchings, even with the daily 10-15 minute delays, the school’s situation is better than it was last spring, when a couple of buses regularly arrived around during second or third period.

Though Daye and Kanku miss about 10 minutes of class daily, parents of other JCPS students have reported occasional delays of an hour or more.

JCPS Chief of Schools Robert Moore said delays are worst on Mondays and Fridays, when the district has the most call-ins from drivers who are sick. JCPS has barely enough drivers to manage the routes they have, even when no drivers call in.

“As far as Mondays and Fridays, I can say with confidence: It's been widespread. It was the same last year,” Moore said.

Moore said principals are using creative approaches to respond to the delays, like flipping their first and sixth periods for half the week.

“That way … if there are kids who are coming consistently late, they're not consistently missing first period,” he said.

He also said districtwide access to Chromebooks means students can sign into their Google classroom to start their assignments if they’re still in transit when the bell rings.

How well is JCPS tracking delays?

The estimated daily instruction time lost of 13.5 minutes is based on records kept by schools tracking bus arrivals, according to the district.

But those records are less organized than in years past.

Last year, schools had a code in the district’s data management platform that allowed them to mark how much time each student lost each day due to a bus delay.

At the beginning of this year, that code was not available. It meant schools kept records of delays differently. Some, like Waggener, recorded the arrival times of buses each day. Other records are handwritten lists of late students, according to a sampling of two schools’ records by LPM.

JCPS says they collected all of those records and compiled the data to create the 13.5 minute estimate.

LPM originally requested records tracking time lost to instruction delays on Sept. 18. The district denied that request on Sept. 25, saying there were no records responsive to the request because the data was tracked “manually” and kept at the school level.

The next day Pollio provided the 13.5 minute estimate to the public at the board meeting.

A district spokesperson told LPM the district was still in the process of compiling school-based documents when the records request was denied.

Pollio said the district added the code to track bus delays on Sept. 30.

Two case studies

To better understand how schools were tracking delays and what they look like this year, LPM requested delay tracking documents from Waggener and Newburg Middle School.

Administrators at both schools described significant delays last year, with some buses regularly arriving hours into the school day.

According to documents obtained by LPM, both schools were still seeing delays under the new transportation plan for the first 21 days of the school year.

On days records were kept, the late bus logs show between four and 40 Newburg students arrived after the 8:40 a.m. bell due to bus delays. Newburg has 760 students.

Late buses arrived at Newburg between nine minutes to 43 minutes after the bell. The average delay was 24 minutes.

The logs also show that the same three or four buses were consistently late. Each of those late buses carried fewer than a handful of Newburg students.

Meanwhile, at Waggener, hundreds of students arrived after the bell each day as a result of a late bus. On average, half of the 540 bus riders arrived before the bell each day, and half after the bell. Waggener has 868 students.

Like at Newburg, the same group of buses are consistently late. Two buses, carrying a total of 124 students, never arrived before the start of first period. One of those buses is the one that 10th grader Grace Kanku takes.

Support for this story was provided in part by the Jewish Heritage Fund.

Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.

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