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Kentucky school district rushes to fix bus route snarl that canceled classes and outraged parents

Sunrise on the first day of school at the Jefferson County Public Schools Detrick Bus Compound at 3686 Parthenia Ave., Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2023, in Louisville, Ky. Kentucky's largest school system cancelled the second and third day of classes after a disastrous overhaul of the transportation system that left some children on buses until just before 10 p.m. on opening day. (Jeff Faughender/Courier Journal via AP)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — An overly-ambitious redesign of bus routes for Louisville’s school district turned into a logistical meltdown on the first day of classes, forcing schools to close as administrators said Friday that students may have to stay home into part of next week until the mess is untangled.

Parents were fuming and state politicians demanded answers after some of the district’s 96,000 students didn’t get picked up for school in the morning or got home hours late on Wednesday, with some arriving after dark.

It took just one disastrous day for Jefferson County Public Schools, a sprawling urban district and the largest in Kentucky, to reexamine the new bus routing system. The plan was designed by AlphaRoute, a Massachusetts-based consulting company that uses computer algorithms to map out courses and stops.

It could take until the middle of next week to resolve the problems enough to resume classes, Superintendent Marty Pollio said Friday, promising to give parents plenty of notice before Monday.

“When we come back, yes, there are still going to be challenges, there are going to be delays,” he said at a news conference. “We’re working in the same system. But it’s going to be much more efficient and our communication will be much better with families and schools. And so we want to make sure we get that right before we put the kids back on a school bus again.”

The district has 65,000 bus riders, according to its website.

In assessing fault for the fiasco, the superintendent said he’s “not going to put it on the company,” referring to AlphaRoute, adding that it was more a problem with implementation of the new transportation plan.

“There are some changes that need to be made to the routing system,” Pollio said. “It is definitely not perfect. But we need to focus on our implementation.”

District officials acknowledged the system faced a “big learning curve” with the new plan. AlphaRoute did not immediately return requests for comment Friday.

The overhauled plan was meant to solve a basic mathematical problem for the district: Last school year, it didn’t have enough drivers to cover all the routes. As a result, thousands of kids missed instructional time as some drivers made double and triple runs.

Now, frustrated parents said they wanted to see quick results to fix the new problems.

Beau Kilpatrick has five kids attending schools in the district but said the only major transportation problems were with his elementary-school aged children, two girls in the first and third grades. The morning bus was supposed to arrive at 8:38 a.m. but never came, he said. After half an hour of waiting, he drove them to the school a few miles away. In the afternoon, the bus was almost two hours late for pickup.

Kilpatrick said the children had to sit in a school hallway while waiting for the bus to arrive because the cafeteria was already full. Then the children weren’t dropped off until three hours later, at 9:15 p.m.

“They were hungry,” he said. “They were thirsty. They couldn’t use the bathroom. They were scared because they just wanted to get home,” he said.

The younger child was covered in urine and Kilpatrick had to assure her that she wasn’t in trouble. Their father called it a “complete failure” by the district.

A group of state lawmakers representing Jefferson County districts called it “the last straw,” saying the debacle “must be the catalyst for change” in the school system.

The lawmakers signaled that they will push for legislation ensuring that students have the right to attend their neighborhood schools. They called for a commission to evaluate splitting up the school system, contending that the district currently is “too big to properly manage.” And they called for changes to the local school board.


Loller reported from Nashville, Tennessee.