Almost 26 lost hours: Kershaw Co. school busing routinely cost some special ed students
KERSHAW COUNTY, S.C. (WIS) - Some of Kershaw County’s special education bus riders had their instructional time cut short by almost 26 hours this fall.
School district data shows that from early August through late November, the district’s school bus system regularly delivered special education students late to and removed them early from Lugoff Elementary School.
A WIS analysis of district-provided bus arrival and departure times showed three special education buses were a combined 22 hours and 50 minutes late.
The district data shows one of those buses took its rider(s) from the school a total of 3 hours and 2 minutes early over the course of the studied period.
It’s unclear how many students were riding those buses each time they were late or removed early.
In August, a school district mother filed complaints about the busing of her child to the South Carolina Department of Education.
As a result, the department is requiring the district to provide compensatory time to that child.
Additionally, the district is under department orders to figure out which other students rode with that child. The district must provide compensatory time to the other impacted riders, if necessary.
The district reports only one other student was impacted and is receiving compensatory time.
Kershaw County School District Superintendent Dr. Harrison Goodwin argues a shortage of bus drivers and the logistical hurdles of special education busing have hindered the transportation of those students.
WIS first reported on the delays and early removals in November, after the mother of an impacted student spoke out about the district being slow to begin the time compensation.
After the story, WIS used the Freedom of Information Act to get data on bus arrival times and early dismissals.
Here is what the district sent WIS:
The district data shows it only tracks arrival/dismissal data for a group of special education buses at Lugoff Elementary School. The data ranges from Aug. 8, 2022 through Nov. 21, 2022.
The five buses in the district data are H1, H11, H3, H6, and H8.
Kershaw County School District elementary schools are dismissed at 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Arrival times differ. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday begin at 7:30 a.m., Wednesdays begin at 8:10 a.m.
According to district data, bus H8 led all others in late arrivals. It arrived late to Lugoff Elementary 43 times, totaling at 20 hours and 17 minutes of lost time, according to the records.
Meanwhile, Bus H1 took students from the school before dismissal 41 times, reaching more than 3 hours of lost time.
The data shows Wednesdays were almost entirely exempt from late arrivals, appearing to be due to the school district’s delayed start time on those days.
Additionally, the data shows early removals from class were spread across all five school days.
Over the course of the dates studied, the combined severity of the late bus arrivals decreased.
The departure data shows the combined early removals severity peaked in September.
The early removals were all by 10 minutes or less.
A mother’s story and the Department of Education’s response
Stephanie Crow is the mother of 7-year-old Lugoff Elementary student Laura Crow, one of the bus riders who’s lost instructional time.
Laura is diagnosed with Angelman Syndrome, which is described by the National Institutes of Health as a genetic disorder which impacts the nervous system.
Stephanie said Laura struggles with seizures, developmental delays, sleeping issues and has impaired motor skills.
She said Laura’s education has not moved as quickly as siblings.
“At this point we’re not even close to learning to read, we’re more focused on really simple tasks that you would see more with probably pre-school, which is really hard to say as a mom. I want to see her reading and doing the things that other 7 almost 8-year-olds are doing, but she’s not there,” Stephanie said.
She said the special education the district provides is critical to Laura’s progress.
That education can only happen if Laura is in the classroom.
According to Department of Education records, a school staffer emailed Stephanie on Aug. 3, 2022.
It read that Laura was being picked up by a bus at 1:50 p.m. “every afternoon” costing her 40 minutes of class time.
Elementary school instructional time ends at 2:30 p.m. daily.
The records show that on Aug. 5, 2022, Stephanie filed a complaint with the South Carolina Department of Education.
They show that on the same day, the district’s Director of Special Services sent out a “district-wide” email reading in part:
“…I would like to remind everyone that students that receive special needs transportation are to be dismissed at the same time as all other students in our buildings. We must ensure that all students are taught bell to bell.”
“I was hoping that that was true. That she wasn’t missing educational time anymore. But I also didn’t trust that,” Stephanie said.
She later explained:
“It was a gut instinct. I can’t explain that, I just didn’t, I felt like I’d already been deceived.”
Stephanie said she began tracking Laura’s movements with a phone in her backpack, discovering she wasn’t getting to school on time.
“I screenshot pictures of the bus route and saw that it wasn’t just Laura at her elementary school at Lugoff but it also was students at other schools in the district. Other elementary schools were being dropped off late,” she said.
The district’s data on the special education buses at the school begins on Aug. 8.
Stephanie filed a second complaint with the state agency on Aug. 22.
In October, Crow and the district were notified of the department’s findings.
The department sent two letters in response to the two complaints.
The first letter (in response to the Aug. 5 complaint) found the district had illegally shortened several of Laura’s school days and cost her special education time.
- On May 23, 24 and 25 (when Laura attended Wateree Elementary) the district conceded moving Laura to the bus between 2:20 and 2:25 p.m.
- On May 26 and 27, the district conceded taking Laura to the bus between 11:15 and 11:20 a.m. when dismissal was at 11:30 a.m.
- On Aug. 4, 2022 Lugoff Elementary staff transported Laura to the bus at 1:50, losing 40 minutes of instructional time
The letter states at times the district argued Laura needed special assistance to get into the bus because she was in a wheelchair.
The second letter (in response to the Aug. 22 complaint) found the district illegally failed to get Laura to school on time, costing her special education.
The letter cites the following:
- On Aug. 8 through Aug. 12, the district conceded arrival times had fallen to 8:15 - 8:30 a.m. (district data supports this)
- On Aug. 18, Laura’s teacher told Stephanie Laura had recently arrived between 8:02 a.m. and 8:17 a.m. (district data supports this)
- On Aug. 1-19 the district conceded Laura arrived 40 to 60 minutes late (district data supports this)
- On Aug. 30, Laura’s teacher told Stephanie “she has arrived at 8:00 this week” (district data supports this)
“I felt like [the district] didn’t care that she was falling behind. I felt like they thought they could get away with it, because she has special needs, because she’s non-verbal, because she can’t tell me,” she said.
The second letter required the district to arrange compensatory educational time for Laura and gave the district a year to correct the situation.
The day of WIS’ original report on the Crows (Nov. 21), the district reached out to Stephanie about arranging the compensatory time in the mornings before school.
Stephanie said the district has since been productive and receptive in arranging Laura’s compensatory time, which was estimated to be 18 hours.
She said both parties agreed that time could be made up in 9 hours of individualized time.
She stressed the teachers and staff at Lugoff Elementary have treated Laura well and have diligently worked with her.
“It’s not her teacher’s fault that this happened,” she said.
However, she said the transportation office has not apologized nor explained what happened.
WIS showed Crow the data outlined above, explaining how delays and early removals have continued at the school months after her first complaint.
“How do they get away with that? How do they continue to get away with that? I mean it’s better but it shouldn’t be, this is one of those things where it doesn’t, it can’t just be better and that’s okay. It has to not be happening anymore. That’s where it’s okay. That’s when it’s right,” she said.
Laura rode the H8 bus to and from school prior to her mother’s complaints.
Both Superintendent Dr. Harrison Goodwin and Stephanie confirmed to WIS Laura was moved to the H11 bus in September for her morning pick-up.
The data shows H11 was never late and H8 never left early in the dates studied.
The district data also supports H11′s early arrivals for compensatory time.
Stephanie said Laura has been the only bus rider on H11.
H11 is not present on a ridership count document the district provided to WIS.
The Department of Education letters also required the district to identify all other who rode with Laura during the identified issues and provide them compensatory time if necessary.
Stephanie said part of her sharing Laura’s story is to get the word out.
“I hope that other parents know now.”
The district’s view
On Jan. 11, 2023 the district emailed WIS a count of students who ride each bus.
The district-provided list shows 16 students ride bus H8.
In a Jan. 17 interview, Superintendent Dr. Harrison Goodwin said that ridership does not reflect the number of students in need of compensatory services.
“You have to remember some get off at schools earlier in that route so they’re not late,” he said.
Goodwin said only Laura and another student need compensatory services.
The identity of the other student is not clear, but the Department of Education letters required the district to determine if any other riders on Laura’s buses lost instructional time.
Goodwin said a student is still riding the H8 bus and arriving late.
“Our special ed department has communicated with [them],” he said.
He also conceded H1 has been arriving late but said it’s been resolved.
He said he’s not sure how many students are riding on H1 and arriving late.
Department data shows 16 students ride H1, but it’s unclear how many go to Lugoff Elementary.
The H1 bus riders are not subject to the Department of Education orders because Laura did not ride on it.
The district-provided data shows late arrivals by H1 lasting until early November.
Goodwin also said the district has looked into other whether students at other schools had a similar experience to Laura and said the district couldn’t find any.
He stressed the bus issues are logistical in nature.
Goodwin said the decision to track arrival and departure times at Lugoff Elementary came from the school.
“Typically, we only begin to track things if there’s an issue getting students to school or to home,” he said . Goodwin said there have not been reports of “consistent” transportation issues elsewhere in the district.
Goodwin explained the busing of the district’s special education students to Lugoff Elementary is strained by multiple factors.
As of Jan. 17, he reported to WIS that the district is only 75 percent staffed on bus drivers (needing 25 more).
The district is actively soliciting applicants for the job.
He said the geography of picking up special education students across the county has been a problem.
“In a given year or a given semester, the ridership on the special needs bus can change significantly so the route can move. What had happened is from last year to this year, we had had a few more students ride that bus that were going different directions,” he said.
Goodwin said H8 was particularly impacted by the geography of its ridership.
“It starts in the east Wateree area, all the way over, it’s first stops are at Jackson school, if I’m remembering right. It makes other stops going to going east to west until it ends up at Lugoff Elementary. It travels east-west a large distance across our county,” he said.
WIS has submitted a records request for bus route maps. The district has not yet provided the maps.
“Based on our discussions [with the transportation department] I don’t think there was previously a way to change the route to get it done more efficiently,” he said.
WIS pressed Goodwin on if calculations were done beforehand to ensure the students arrived on time.
“When you look at students and the amount of ride time do you really want to start picking students up prior to 5 a.m. and drop maybe those same students at off at 5 p.m. or do you want to go ahead and concede that you’re going to do compensatory services to make up the missed instructional time,” he said.
Goodwin said teachers are compensated for the extra work brought on by the compensatory time.
No superintendent investigation into the early removals
Goodwin said he is not sure why Laura was dismissed early from school in August or in May.
“I’ll plead ignorance there just because that was something that occurred the last week of school last year that was carried over into the first week of this school this year,” he said.
He was not superintendent until July 2022, but was leading the district when the school staffer emailed Stephanie about the continued early removals.
“I can’t answer who made that call [to remove Laura early] last year,” he said.
Goodwin did stress that the issue of early dismissals has come to an end. The district data provided to WIS shows early removals continued until November.
However, the time lost was significantly reduced compared to Laura’s experience before the data was tracked.
“There are no excuses as to why it was going on. It was a matter of it’s wrong and we fix it,” he said.
Goodwin said the new semester and adjusted ridership may alleviate some pressure on the system.
“We’re actually reallocating the way some of those buses move from school to school to try to relieve that time, in other words we’re re-routing again now that we’ve had some change in ridership,” he said.
He said he is hopeful the changes will result in improved arrival times, but at the time of the interview, the impact of the changes had not yet been analyzed.
He additional drivers could help the district.
It’s offering $16,059 - $23,448 a year for the position.
Salary.com estimates the median salary for a school bus driver in South Carolina is $34,587.
“We do pay significantly above the state minimum pay-scale for bus drivers, if you don’t do that you won’t fill your spots, because it’s painfully low,” he said.
Goodwin added that the district ensures drivers work enough daily hours to earn full benefits, if they want to.
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