As more than 25,000 students in Gainesville and Hall County get ready to board school buses for a new year, officials offer tips for students and their parents to make the experience smooth.
“Some routes are going to be close to being on time and some are going to be late because we have new drivers that are driving different routes,” said Mike Garner, route supervisor for Hall County Schools Transportation Department. “The first thing I would tell parents is be patient. We’re trying to find them as badly as they want us to find them. After three to four weeks, things start to relax, drivers know their students, they know their routes and the times are pretty well on mark.”
Garner said being on time at the bus stop is also important for the more than 20,000 students riding buses in Hall County.
“Once these routes are down, we need the children to be at their assigned stop for safety purposes, so we can see them,” he said. “Otherwise we may miss them. If a child is missed and we’re still in the area, we can swing back through, but if we’re clear of that area, it’s the parent’s responsibility to get their child to school.”
Garner oversees 237 bus drivers and 28 substitute drivers on 474 routes. The drivers each do two routes a day, starting with elementary students who are delivered to schools around 7:15 each morning. The drivers then go back to pick up middle and high school students and bring them to their schools between 8-8:30 each morning.
Since buses are not air-conditioned, Garner said Hall allows students to bring water on the buses in August. Policy usually prohibits any type of food or drink on the buses.
Jerry Castleberry, transportation director for the Gainesville City School System, estimated that more than 5,000 students ride the district’s buses. He said his office has 52 bus drivers running 33 fixed routes and nine special education routes.
Six buses that served Gainesville Exploratory Academy last year are being moved to the new Mundy Mill Academy for the 2017-18 school year. A total of 222 of the estimated 373 students at Mundy Mill this year will come from Gainesville Exploratory, according to school officials.
Castleberry encouraged parents and students to make sure there is some type of identification inside students’ backpacks in case a backpack is left on the bus.
Gainesville is using the Versatran school bus routing software this year, which it said is “more efficient” than the old system. Parents and students will only notice the new system because it will mean some changes to bus numbers and times.
“They can get that information at the school,” he said.
He added that parents should make sure they are at the bus stop in the afternoons to meet younger children.
“If there is not a parent to meet the child at the bus stop, if it is a young child, they will keep the child on the bus,” Castleberry said.
“Sometimes kids fall asleep on the bus,” he added. “If it happens, they will get them back as they can.”
Like other school bus drivers around the state, Gainesville school bus drivers are required to have 12 hours of training in the classroom, six hours of training on a bus without students and six hours of training on a bus with students. There is also ongoing training throughout the year. While state law allows bus drivers to be as young as 18, no Gainesville or Hall bus drivers are that young.