Several Beech area students were late for their first day of school on Monday as frustrated parents maneuvered a higher traffic volume than normal along Long Hollow Pike and New Hope Road.
Sarah Dempsey, a resident of the Carellton subdivision off of Long Hollow Pike says it took her husband and child who attends Beech Elementary School almost an hour to travel the five miles or so to school on Monday.
“He left at 7 a.m. and didn’t arrive until almost 8,” she said. Beech Elementary starts at 7:30 a.m. while nearby Hunter Middle School starts at 7:40 a.m.
On Tuesday, Dempsey’s husband left at 6:45 a.m. and arrived at the school at around 7 a.m.
“There was no traffic, but my child was there 30 minutes early,” she said. “I have to get my six-year-old up at 5:45 a.m. in order for her to get to her school – which is just five miles away – on time.”
The Carellton subdivision was rezoned in February sending more than 100 additional students to Beech Elementary School and several more to Hunter.
Both the traffic problems as well as confusion with bus routes in the neighborhood had parents asking if the school system had planned properly for the rezoning.
Sumner County Schools Spokesperson Jeremy Johnson said that the school district is working to address the issues.
Although parents have said they alerted the school district to possible bus route issues the week before school started, Johnson attributed that problem to a staffing issue.
“We had a staffing change over the summer and the person that handles the route coordinating, they mislabeled the bus routes so parents on the first day had the wrong bus numbers,” said Johnson. “That has been fixed.”
In addition, Johnson stressed that the school system is short 40 bus drivers and noted that some bus routes have been combined in order to address the issue.
“Most of what we’ve seen out of Carellton – we think that will get better as people get used to the new routes and pick-up times,” Johnson said.
As far as the traffic in the Beech area, Johnson said Director of Schools Del Phillips has been on the Beech campus all week exploring the issue.
“He’s sat in traffic along Long Hollow; he’s sat in the car rider lines,” said Johnson. “We’re going to continue to monitor it this week.”
It’s not unusual for more parents to drop off students at the beginning of the school year, Johnson noted.
“What we’re trying to see is do we have an increase in volume this year, or is this just normal first of the year traffic,” he said.
Johnson said school officials are also trying to determine if more school traffic is putting people on the road or if it’s just more traffic in the growing area in general.
“Some of what we see is that they are not necessarily going to school,” he said. “And we’re going to have a limited capacity to address that.”
Johnson said school officials are exploring several options, including start times.
“Changing start times is something that’s on the table once we get through this week and we see how much of that traffic is related to the start of school,” Johnson added.
Districtwide, parents also had trouble accessing the “Here Comes the Bus” app the first week of school.
The application allows parents to track where the school bus is and when it will arrive at their child’s stop.
Johnson says the problem was with the app’s vendor and it’s now up and running.
The app is only available for students who register as bus riders during school registration, according to Johnson. Parents are urged to contact their child’s school to obtain a log-in information.
“If your student doesn’t ride the bus you don’t have access to it,” said Johnson.