Omaha Public Schools approves changes to student bus ride policy, thousands to be impacted

Board voted Monday on the policy aimed at addressing ongoing issues with student transportation
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Published: Dec. 12, 2022 at 3:54 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Just a week after the changes to the Omaha Public Schools school bus eligibility policy were publicly announced, the board voted Monday night to approve the changes, which will impact nearly 3,000 families.

Fueled by a driver shortage, the updates mean some children won’t be able to ride a bus anymore, depending on their home’s distance from the school. If your student is still able to ride the bus, they may need to walk further to the bus stop — up to eight blocks total for high schoolers.

Because of the driver shortage, the district says buses are not arriving on time, making kids late going to and from school, and leaving families wondering when the bus will arrive.

The now-approved plan includes the following changes to current student busing parameters:

  • Eligible distance for busing for elementary students would increase from 1 mile home-to-school distance to 1.5 miles; and from 1.5 miles to 2 miles for middle school students.
  • Bus stop ranges increase by two blocks for each grade level, putting the maximum walking distance to a bus stop at four blocks for elementary students, six blocks for middle-school students, and eight blocks for high schoolers.
  • Increasing the number of students scheduled per bus

Charles Wakefield, the OPS Chief of Operations presented the plan for the final time to board members Monday night, re-stating what families, teachers, schools, and others already know:

“Ultimately, our challenge really is a math problem, the number of routes we need to run to transport our students today in our current student assignment plan is greater than the number of bus drivers we have.”

The changes are expected to impact around 3,000 families and cut the number of bus routes by at least 50, which officials say better aligns with how many drivers are available to OPS through Student Transportation of America, the district’s vendor.

“3,000 is not a small number, even if it was five families it would be too many,” said OPS board member Tracy Casady, after admitting she waited more than 40 minutes Monday morning for her own child’s bus to arrive. “But we do have a responsibility to our students to provide responsible and safe transportation and it’s just not happening.”

“I’d rather not be talking about this and voting for it but I think it’s something that we need to do based on the situation they’re in,” said board member Spencer Head, who drove school buses himself to help alleviate the shortage.

OPS families were notified last week that the district was pushing for adjustments to student transportation policies as a means of addressing ongoing issues stemming from a shortage of qualified drivers.

Some district parents have expressed concerns over the new changes. Many recognize the district needs to make some sort of change, but aren’t sure if this is the right move.

“You say we don’t have enough drivers. . . that’s not the children and the parents’ fault,” said one OPS grandparent at Monday night’s meeting.

“It is my understanding that the number of bus lines that will be removed will be distributed equally across the district, but I can’t say that equal is enough. Equal distribution of the dilation of the routes doesn’t take into account the fact that not all of the families have the same resources or opportunities,” said OPS parent and former OPS board member Kimara Snipes at Monday’s meeting.

The district held meetings last week to review the proposed policy with student families.

OPS officials say the now-approved change to the policy impacts the least amount of families than any other considered changes.

Earlier this year, OPS increased payment to its bus vendors to help offer bonuses for new drivers and reduced routes by putting more students on buses. The district says despite these efforts, the change is necessary as the number of drivers remains critically low.

“The one thing that’s truly unfair is to tell a family or student that we’re going to have a bus for you and have them standing at the bus stop knowing full well that bus won’t come because there’s not a driver,” board member Head said.

“There’s no way you can have elementary kids not getting home until 10 o’clock, and they’re eating lunch at 10, 10:30? C’mon now,” said board member Ricky Smith. “Please trust that these people are working diligently to make the best decision for our students, and Mr. Wakefield, you started out by saying it’s a math problem - and when you look at the math, 94.4% of students will still have transportation. That’s an A+, I’ll take it,” Smith says.

Families can call Omaha Public Schools’ student services now to find out their home-to-school distance, but officials say they will have a clearer picture of exactly who is impacted after school selection is done in March.

After school selection is completed, the district will have preliminary routing done by early June, and expect parents to have direct notification by the first week of August.

A discussion on changes to OPS buses

This is a developing story. Stay with 6 News for updates.