DALLAS -- Outside Harry Stone Montessori School, the vans, SUVs, and flourescent hand-held signs were looking more familiar by Thursday afternoon. But to school employee Sheila Walker, unsettling stories are too familiar.
"Somebody today walked up to a kid and said, 'I'm here to take you to the magnet school.' What magnet school? No identificaton!" she said. "A pervert could just come up to a kid! I can make a green sign and a yellow sign."
She helps the students from Harry Stone, who are now in an alternative transportation program, find their rides. And her grandchildren also attend the school.
This year, DISD quadrupled the size of the alternative program, which has been used to transport students in special situations; 2,200 kids on 400 routes are now involved. Most parents say they didn't know a change was coming until a van, SUV, taxi, or sedan showed up at a bus stop instead of the familiar yellow bus, though the chief of the transportation program said flyers were sent out and phone calls were made before the year.
Thursday night, DISD and representatives from contractor American Logistics Company (ALC), met with parents from Stone and Callier Center, a school which provides deaf education.
There was confrontation, and a lot of raised voices.
"We need a solution," Walker said. "I don't want an SUV, a van, a shuttle, a taxi cab, or a beat-up sedan. I want my child in a yellow bus!"
ALC apologized for the trouble experienced this week, and said the kinks will work themselves out. ALC's top leaders are now in Dallas closely monitoring the program. They attended the Thursday meetings.
They heard parents complaining about drivers not knowing routes and students not being picked up.
ALC's Vice President of Corporate Communications Greg Prettyman said much of the problem came about because DISD and Dallas County Schools, which the district contracts with for transportation, did not provide ALC with accurate information about students' addresses or about how many students would be at each stop.
"So, we're going to the wrong addresses, having to call and find the address," Prettyman said. "The people who are talking about having chilren who haven't been picked up, all those things are part of the first week of school process."
DISD school board member Lew Blackburn led most of the meeting at Harry Stone Montessori. He said he learned something.
"Dallas ISD contracts with Dallas County Schools, who contracts with companies like ALC, which contracts with individual drivers, like maybe a taxi driver or some kind of driver," Blackburn said. "That's a lot of subcontractors."
He said he understands the reasoning behind DISD's expansion of the program to include magnet, montessori, and vanguard schools. He knows it is supposed to be a money saver, and reduce the amount of time children spend in transit.
But, "I heard it loud and clear tonight that parents feel the yellow buses are safer," he said after Thursday's meeting.
Prettyman said each driver is trained and has undergone a background check. He promised things would get better.
"I think as [parents] start to see their child home longer in the morning and come home earlier in the evening, and as they get to know that driver and have a relationship, they'll start to feel better about it," he said.
ALC wants parents to e-mail them with any issues. They say they will respond to each. The email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Blackburn said he has already been in discussions with Dallas County Schools board members, and he said he's going to make sure DISD Superintendent Mike Miles is aware of the complaints.
He admitted he wouldn't let his grandchildren take part.
"If the taxi cab showed up to bring my grandkids, I'd tell my son & my daughter I'll come pick them up, they'll drive with me," he said with a wink.