Education

Her daughter was dropped off at the wrong bus stop and spent nearly an hour lost in Anchorage

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An Anchorage School District bus dropped off Moria Rogers’ 6-year-old daughter at the wrong stop earlier this month, leading to a harrowing evening that’s the latest in a string of bus issues that have plagued the district this school year.

Rogers called the police and frantically searched for the child. A stranger ultimately found her daughter, Gigi, and brought her back to North Star Elementary, where they were reunited.

It’s not the first time a student has been dropped off at the wrong bus stop in Anchorage this school year. District spokesperson Lisa Miller said four student bus riders have gotten lost this school year, including Gigi. In December, following one of the snowstorms, two students were dropped at the wrong stop, and a third was placed onto the wrong bus, Miller said in an email.

A parent told Anchorage School Board members at a meeting in December that her son, who is in kindergarten, was dropped off some eight to 10 blocks from his bus stop in Eagle River.

The Anchorage School District and the nearby Mat-Su Borough School District have been grappling with bus issues since the start of the school year. A major driver shortage left many eligible riders without service for weeks in Anchorage. In the Mat-Su, chaos unfolded under a new bus contractor at the start of the school year, including an incident when a student went missing for three hours.

School bus

The Anchorage School District has put new plans in place aiming to address the issues. They’re using a colored index card system to help get first grade and kindergarten riders onto the correct buses after the December incidents “as part of a districtwide reset,” Miller wrote. Gigi’s school, North Star, was not using the system the day she was lost but has since started doing so, she said. Miller also said that the district will now call parents directly if a student misses their stop or does not know their stop.

“This event and the other instances last month could have been minimized or avoided if parents were contacted immediately when the bus driver found their student still on the bus at the end of the route,” Miller said.

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‘I waited patiently’

Rogers got to the bus stop on the afternoon of Jan. 12 to meet her daughter Gigi 10 minutes early, which she usually does just in case. Gigi has some disabilities and is unable to find her way home by herself, Rogers said.

She and her younger son waited for 20 minutes before she saw the bus go straight instead of turning toward her, Rogers said. She said the bus had missed their stop before, and she figured the driver would turn around or, worst-case scenario, call Rogers if the 6-year-old stayed on the bus until it arrived at the garage.

“So I waited,” Rogers said. “I waited patiently.”

After a little over half an hour, Rogers said she called the bus dispatch, and was told all the students had been dropped off. Rogers said that wasn’t true because she was at the bus stop, and her child wasn’t there.

The dispatcher told Rogers where Gigi had been dropped off, which was different from the stop they’d been using all year. That’s when Rogers realized her child was dropped somewhere she didn’t belong and couldn’t find her way home.

The sun had set, and it was getting cold. Rogers called 911, and the Anchorage Police Department arrived. A spokesperson for the police department said police responded to the incident close to 5 p.m.

Rogers called the bus dispatch back and was told they had three employees looking for Gigi, she said. Rogers said she then spent 20 minutes, her 4-year-old son on her back, running around the area of Eagle Street and Fireweed Lane, yelling Gigi’s name — frantic.

Finally, Rogers said she received a call from North Star Elementary, and was told that Gigi was at the school. After Gigi waited 40 minutes alone, Rogers said a stranger had offered to help, and Gigi told the stranger the name of her school.

Officers swiftly helped reunite Rogers and Gigi at the school.

Miller said in an email that the bus driver was a long-term substitute driver who has been with the district for a decade. Miller also said that the district software had the correct stop for Gigi that day, even though Rogers said that she had met Gigi at a different stop all school year.

A district transportation official’s email to Rogers also said the district’s routing system put Gigi’s stop as different from the one Rogers said she had been picking her up at this school year.

Heather Philp, senior director of transportation with the district, said in the email it wasn’t clear why the routing system provided a different stop location and that the district has manually changed the stop in their system.

“This parent experienced a very valid sense of distress when their child was not at their anticipated meet up location,” Miller said.

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Morgan Krakow

Morgan Krakow is a general assignment reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. She is a 2019 graduate of the University of Oregon and spent the summer of 2019 as a reporting intern on the general assignment desk of The Washington Post. Contact her at mkrakow@adn.com.

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