Some Loudoun County, Virginia, students are starting the school year with long bus rides that have them getting home after 5 p.m. at night, but a shortage of bus drivers stands in the way of a fix.
When buses leave Harmony Middle School about 3:30 p.m., some students will be riding for an hour and a half.
Parents say it’s like commuting for work.
Eighth-grader Walker Farr lives 13 miles from the school on Furnace Mountain Road outside Lovettsville. His father said an hour trip may be acceptable, but having Walker spend three hours a day on the bus is not.
One of Mark Farr’s chief complaints is after his son’s bus picks up students at Harmony, it stops at a high school to pick up more students.
“It should be a direct ride home,” Farr said.
Mo Thomas made her own accommodations for her son to spare him a long ride. She drives him to the house of a friend who gets picked up 30 minutes later, but she won't stop pushing for improvements.
“I’m sure we'll continue to email and go to meetings and hope for shorter rides and hope for more buses,” she said.
School officials attribute some of the long rides to early school year adjustments, but perhaps the biggest factor is they are 89 bus drivers short, making it difficult to add routes.
“We have 103 double runs, which is not ideal, but until we get that staffing up to par, we are going to have to make some accommodations,” Loudoun County Public Schools spokesman Wayde Byard said.
In the most rural areas, parents are concerned about where their children must wait for the bus. Along Shelburne Glebe Road in the Lincoln area, some parents were surprised to learn the bus would stop picking their children up at home. Instead, they walk along gravel roads to meet at an intersection.
"We started calling transportation, saying, Where would you like my children to stand?" Adrienne Gardner said. "Out here there are no sidewalks, there are no shoulders.
The only legal place for children to wait is in the road, Gardner said.
Parents are meeting with their school board members to find a different solution.