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Kentucky lawmakers listen to frustrated parents about school transportation issues

<i></i><br/>Jefferson County Public Schools opted to cancel classes for students on Monday and Tuesday as it attempts to fix transportation issues.

Jefferson County Public Schools opted to cancel classes for students on Monday and Tuesday as it attempts to fix transportation issues.

By Molly Jett

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    JEFFERSON COUNTY, Kentucky (WDRB) — With school out Monday and Tuesday, parents of Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) students shared their thoughts with Kentucky lawmakers on Sunday.

State representatives Tina Bojanowski, Beverly Chester-Burton, Daniel Grossberg, Josie Raymond and state Sen. Cassie Chambers Armstrong led a forum at Brown Park in St. Matthews after the state’s largest school district opted to cancel classes for students on Monday and Tuesday as it attempts to fix major transportation issues.

Arthur Robinson has a preschooler and fourth grader who attend JCPS schools.

“It’s difficult, it’s very hard,” Robinson said. “COVID, they had to deal with that. So with my daughter in fourth grade, she’s never had a normal school year. So that’s very important because that can be traumatizing for kids as well. Starting off the school year this way is such a hectic manner.”

Robinson worries his children’s safety is in jeopardy. He told lawmakers on Sunday he wasn’t aware that JCPS bus drivers don’t have GPS.

“If you think about this kind of safety, where you have to look at a route and also pay attention to the road as well as pay attention to 50 students who are on your busy,” Robinson said.

Other parents were frustrated over a lack of communication between JCPS and its teachers and parents.

“The more that we parents can understand about the problem and where the problem originates,” said Taylor U’Sellis, a parent. “I think the better we can give compassion to the system.”

Raymond said to the crowd on Sunday that JCPS parents’ voices need to be heard.

“Whatever you’re feeling, you’re not the only one feeling it,” Raymond said. “For me, it was an enormous breach of trust with an institution I relied on.”

At least six Democratic lawmakers listened to parents concerns and shared their own suggestions that included fixing problems at bus depots and changing routes back to picking up kids on neighborhood streets rather than main roads.

Some parents also had concerns over JCPS transporting high schoolers and elementary schoolers together on the same bus, overcrowded buses, and making morning and night stops inconsistent.

One Kentucky lawmaker also said JCPS should sue AlphaRoute, the firm that created the bus route’s on the first day of school.

JCPS recently started using a program developed by a firm called AlphaRoute out of Massachusetts to help with planning routes and assigning bus stop locations. The program — developed by graduates of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — uses artificial intelligence to generate the routes with the intent of reducing the number of routes. JCPS had 730 routes last year, and that was cut to 600 beginning this year.

“And parents don’t want us doing a reset with this AI system,” Grossberg said. “Instead, they want to take a pause and revamp the entire system and do something that’s a ground up approach, where they take all the input from the parents, from the schools and from most importantly, the bus drivers who have to actually play.”

Grossberg also recommended JCPS high schoolers ride for free on TARC buses to give relief to the district’s bus drivers.

“You’re increasing the demand for TARC, which means that TARC will do more routes and TARC has proven itself capable of an effective busing system,” Grossberg said.

Republican lawmakers weren’t in attendance at Brown Park, but last week a dozen legislators called for a special session and four other immediate action items. Those lawmakers suggested splitting up JCPS and supporting school choice.

“Everyone is working on a solution,” U’sellis said. “And I don’t think anyone meant to cause this problem. And so if we can extend grace to people, I think that’s really the best thing that I can remember to do.”

The group of Democratic lawmakers plans to write a letter to summarize the feedback. Senior JCPS leaders should receive the recommendations within the next day.

“It will be very valuable. JCPS gave more information, more detail as to what went wrong and what can be done to fix it,” Grossberg said. “And then ultimately, who is responsible for what went wrong and what is being done to make sure that a disaster like this doesn’t happen again.”

“It’s good to be able to voice our concerns and have somebody listen and have somebody willing to fight for our concerns,” Robinson said.

The school district is expected to share plans for this week with parents on Monday.

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