Some Frisco ISD high school students say they have been forced to sit in the aisle or on a friend’s lap because their school bus is so crowded.
"You’re literally holding on for dear life," said Independence High School freshman Siann Torres, who rode home on the bus floor twice during the first two weeks of school.
Parents in the Brookstone neighborhood on McKinney’s west side have raised safety concerns with the district and shared photos and videos students took of the overcrowded bus. Parents thought the problem had been solved with the addition of a second bus, but they said it apparently is used only after the first bus is full. Not everyone has been alerted to the existence of a second bus, which one parent said wasn’t available at all Friday.
Amanda McCune, Frisco ISD’s executive director of communications, said the district has a shortage of about 30 bus drivers and is trying to hire people. Until the openings are filled, some buses will be crowded, she said. Several campuses have double routes, with buses making a second trip to pick up students who couldn’t fit the first time, she said.
"State law says that we can have 71 riders on a school bus," she said, adding that district policy sets capacity at 54 students at the high school level. "We know we have the capacity to fit that many students and have a safe seat on the school bus."
The district’s bus safety rules require students to be seated and aisles to remain clear at all times.
Freshman Kaitlynn Cook said she ended up in the aisle twice because there was nowhere to sit. "I had my elbows between the two chairs," she said. "It’s just kinda scary."
Her mother, Lisa Cook, said she worries about the risks of an accident.
"There’s nothing to secure her in," she said. "She’s going to either go flying through the windshield or she’s going flying out the back."
School hours are staggered so that buses can transport elementary students, then take middle school students and finish the day with high-schoolers. McCune said the district tries to adhere to its capacity level for high-schoolers but sometimes exceeds that. Having more than 48 students on a bus means some seats will have three students.
"Have you ever tried to get high-schoolers to sit three to a seat? They don’t fit. The kids are bigger," mom Elaine Torres said.
In July, Frisco ISD put out an urgent call for bus drivers. The retirements and resignations typical between school years are compounded by the district’s continued growth. The district started the school year with more than 57,000 students.
Last school year, the district’s buses transported about 9,300 students a day.
"We are trying to recruit and get as many bus drivers to relieve some of the angst that we know that parents are having, especially on this particular route," McCune said. "We’ll be able to provide the relief that’s needed as soon as we get the number of bus drivers hired that are needed."
Mother Amy Hernandez suggested the district require students to sign up to ride the bus so that it has an accurate count and can shift resources around.
"You can’t forgo the safety of the kids just because they can’t find drivers," she said.
The problem is compounded by students who refuse to share a seat or won’t make room for a third person, freshman Siann said. She recalled one day asking two students to squeeze together so she could sit on the edge.
"They said, ‘No, there’s no room. I can’t do anything.’ So I sat on my knees right next to them," she said.
Some students have opted to walk home nearly 5 miles rather than endure the overcrowded bus. That in itself poses safety risks for students crossing six-lane roads and walking in areas without sidewalks, mother Liana Farr said.
Other parents are trying to set up regular carpools. Cook said she changed her schedule at work so she could be off by 4 p.m. in case her daughter gets stranded.
"I would like to see two buses," Cook said. "To have a second bus with three or five kids only and the first bus of 55 kids with people sitting half off doesn’t make any sense."