DALLAS -- The chief of staff for the agency that manages transportation for Dallas ISD defended the use of third-party vehicles to transport students in a statement Tuesday afternoon, saying the drivers meet strenuous requirements and parents were informed of the program before the start of this school year.
Parents said they were confused this week to find minivans, sport utility vehicles and sedans, in addition to yellow school buses, in use to transport students to and from schools. Some parents reported their children were late to class because of new transportation system.
Cyndi Garcia said her 13-year-old son, Joshua, was supposed to be picked up in a minivan and taken to school Monday.
"The first thing I see is her car, and it's not a minivan," she said. "It's like a little, silver, beat-up car. It was like a Ford Focus with no rims, and had dents in it, and the whole nine yards. [I'm] not sure I would have ridden in it myself."
Garcia reluctantly let her son go. He was an hour late to school, and when school ended, no one showed up to pick him up.
"The only thing I can think of is, what is he thinking?" Garcia said. "'Where is my mom? There's no bus. Where's my mom? Where's my dad? Where's somebody?'"
Joshua is deaf, so by law, the school district is supposed to provide transportation. In this case, he has to travel more than 20 miles to school.
“I'm not sure I can trust them to get him there and back," Garcia said.
Dallas County Schools Chief of Staff Susan Falvo said all drivers meet the requirements of Texas, Dallas ISD, and Dallas County Schools, including state driving requirements, drug testing, criminal background checks, and must pass a rigorous training program, and parents were informed of the program with fliers and phone calls prior to the start of the school year.
She said the third-party transportation is the continuation of a DISD program that has been successful for five years, and last year, transported 500 No Child Left Behind and homeless students on 100 routes. This year, it was expanded to include 2,190 students on 425 routes by adding deaf education and some Vangaurd/Magnet routes.
DISD previously had contracts with No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and McKinney-Vento for third-party transportation services, and added new provider American Logistics Company (ALC) this year.
In a statement, ALC said that providing smaller vehicles leads to shorter ride times to and from school.
"We do recognize that any change, especially changes that involve someone's children, takes some time to get used to and we are working closely with parents and school administrators to help them through this transition,” ALC spokesman Gregg Prettyman said. "We assure you that anyone servicing these trips has been thoroughly screened and meets all state and local transportation requirements."
According to the DCS chief of staff, fliers explaining the program were sent to parents, and all parents were called prior to the start of the school year to give them contact information, pickup time, and driver information.
Garcia said she did get a call, but wasn't given specifics. She's isn't planning to send her son back to school until she knows someone can get him there safely.
Jose Hernandez's children attend DISD Vanguard middle schools and need transportation. His son got to school without a problem on Monday, but his 11-year-old daughter didn't.
"It's a big mess; she’s insecure, and I feel insecure, too," Hernandez said. "Nobody showed up."
It turned out that the driver was late. But when he did show up, he was not properly dressed and didn't have an ID badge, Hernandez said. The vehicle had a sign indicating what school it was going to, but the sign was incorrect.
Falvo said magnetic signs identifying the particular school where each vehicle is going will be added to the outside of all vehicles as soon as possible.
"Additionally, we are redoubling our efforts to communicate with the parents again," Falvo said. "In particular, we found that a number of parents changed their phone numbers over the summer and we are reaching out to them."
She also encouraged parents with problems or questions to call the DCS Hotline at 214-944-4511.