Dearborn Public Schools Superintendent Brian Whiston issued an apology to parents Tuesday after transportation issues led to a late start and some students waiting for a bus for more than an hour in single-digit temperatures.
According to the district, a series of issues Tuesday morning resulted in a shortage of buses, as well as a delayed explanation to parents.
First, the near-zero temperature meant a rough start for some of the buses.
"We’ve got a process in place for getting them going and getting them started (in cold weather)," explained district spokesman David Mustonen. "We had a few buses that weren’t starting like they should have."
Compounding the issue is the fact that the district's transportation department is short staffed, and that there were a "high number of absences today across the district," Mustonen added.
The shortage of buses meant that some drivers had to double up their routes, meaning that some students were left standing at their bus stop in below-freezing temperatues for more than an hour, according to some parents.
Mustonen confirmed that, saying that he "would not doubt that there were kids at bus stops longer than they should have been."
Lastly, a robocall to parents notifying them of the issue did not go out until around 9 a.m., which the district said was due to a breakdown in communication. Dearborn high schools start at 7:20 a.m.; middle schools at 8 a.m.; and elementary schools at 8:40 a.m.
It's not clear how many students were affected, though according to Mustonen, less than 3,000 of the district's 19,100 students are bused.
"How many were impacted? I don’t know," he said. "But the fact is, even one student is too many."
Some parents pointed to the issue as evidence that the district should have canceled school entirely due to the weather—with temperatures as low as 3 degrees, and below-zero wind chill.
Dearborn Patch reader Fay Saad commented on Facebook that the district should have just added a day to the school year in June "to make up for a day that is dangerously cold for any child to be out for long periods of time."
Mustonen assured that the issue would not be repeated, and that the district does not normally close due to cold weather, but instead has procedures in place to give the transportation team time to start and warm up the buses.
Less than 100 Michigan schools or districts did close on Tuesday, due to the cold—including two Dearborn charter schools. Most public school districts, however, did not close.
An apology letter regarding the issues was released by Superintendent Brian Whiston Tuesday afternoon. Here's the letter in full:
I want to apologize to all the parents and students who had a rough start to the school day today because of the problems we encountered with transportation.
We were prepared to deal with the cold weather; however..., we were not prepared to deal with several compounded problems that occurred along with the cold weather. Nonetheless, no excuse is acceptable. When the problems occurred we should have communicated better with all of our parents so that they could have made appropriate plans.
I apologize for the breakdown in communications and we will be making sure that never happens again.
Dearborn has a long history and outstanding track record of efficiently operating our district and communicating with parents when major issues develop. Today was an unfortunate event and I am sorry for the way it impacted some of our parents and students.
All of us who work for the Dearborn Public Schools are dedicated to serving our customers, the students and parents in our district and I am disappointed that today we did not live up to our high standards.