Long days continue for Hyattsville Middle Schoolers busing to Bowie
BY JOSIE JACK AND KIT SLACK
School is in session every weekday from 9 a.m. to 3:50 p.m. On Feb. 28, four out of 12 buses delivered students to the temporary Meadowbrook site, in Bowie, at 9:24 a.m. or later. Four buses left the same location at 5 p.m. or later, according to a partial log of arrival and departure times kept by the school administration.
In February, up to 75% of buses going to Meadowbrook arrived late.
“My own child’s bus late arrival means that he misses math pretty much daily,” said parent John Rigg, who is a College Park city councilmember (District 3). Sarah Christopherson, who is the president of the school’s PTSO, said instruction in her child’s science class often starts half an hour late due to late bus arrivals.
Rigg said that many families don’t have the means to drive their children to school. His family carpooled in the fall, but as they’ve returned to working in person, they have had to rely on buses.
Rigg credited school board member Pamela Boozer-Strother (District 3) for her effective advocacy, noting some recent improvement in bus arrival times.
Boozer-Strother said that a bus driver shortage means drivers have double routes, which leads to delays throughout the county. She stressed that busing HMS students should be a priority, though, because they are dealing with other disruptions to their education during construction of the new school.
School officials say the new HMS building is on track to be completed by July 2023.
In the meantime, the middle school’s sixth grade students go to Thomas Stone Elementary School, in nearby Mount Rainier, and seventh and eighth graders are divided between two more distant schools. Students in the HMS creative and performing arts (CPA) program share a building with Robert Goddard Montessori School (RGMS), in Seabrook, and non-CPA seventh and eighth graders travel to Meadowbrook, the most distant temporary site, in Bowie.
Following the construction of a large modular building on the RGMS campus, seventh and eighth graders will be united in Seabrook. However, the construction has taken longer than anticipated. Christopherson said that in March, parents will discuss the pros and cons of moving the Meadowbrook students to RGMS after spring break or waiting until fall 2022.
Unreliable bus transportation may be contributing to a decreased attendance rate and declining enrollment at the school.
As of Jan. 26, Hyattsville Middle School had an 89% attendance rate for the 2021-22 school year, compared with a rate of 94% during each of the preceding four years.
At the beginning of this school year, there were 859 students enrolled in the middle school; as of March 1, there are 717, according to county school officials.
Boozer-Strother said some students have moved away, others are homeschooling and some are participating in the new Prince George’s County Public Schools Online Campus.
“We are a more disadvantaged population. So for us to be broken up across multiple campuses hits extra hard,” said Christopherson. “This cohort of middle school kids for Hyattsville — they’ve been asked to carry all of the sacrifices and none of the gain.”
Boozer-Strother said that the team of dedicated bus drivers should be thanked for their commitment, as they work under stress during the driver shortage. “Our current bus driver staff have been performing at an outstanding level of attendance, and showing a real commitment to make this work.”
She also noted that the county school system is holding job fairs twice each month to recruit new drivers. The next scheduled fair will be on March 16.
For more information about the hiring of school bus drivers, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or Nicole Eubanks at Nicole.Eubanks@pgcps.org or contact Human Resources at 301.952.6134.
Josie Jack is an intern with the Hyattsville Life & Times