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Piedmont Triad parents failing to meet their young children at bus stops

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- So far in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools 2015-2016 school year, there have been thousands of instances where a child was not met by a parent or guardian at their bus stop and they could not be dropped off after school.

The school system’s policy is that all children pre-K through first grade must be met at their bus stop in order to be dropped off and the same goes for exceptional children. In addition, some second graders are not comfortable being dropped off with nobody to greet them.

“This happens religiously. Parents are not there to pick up their kid,” said Larry Wright, bus driver for the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools system.

Thus far, there have been about 135 days this school year. Over that time, there were 2,344 instances where pre-K to first grade-aged students did not have someone to meet them at their bus stop. In that same time period, it’s happened 521 times to second graders and 201 times to exceptional children. That’s an average of almost 23 students per day.

“They know pre-K and first grade have to be picked up. They have to be picked up and they have to have somebody there,” Wright said, of parents and guardians.

When this happens, the bus drivers do not return the students to their schools, instead, they bring them to the next school on their route.

“If he’s in pre-K school and your next school is going to be Carver High School, then you have to leave him at Carver High School,” Wright said. “You can’t go all the way back to his school, because you might be 10 miles from his school.”

The driver will radio in to the next school and a staff member will meet the child.

“It’s right at dismissal, when 700 kids are leaving class and it’s a little bit more chaotic than usual,” said Joe Childers, principal of Atkins High School.

Childers said the children are “often scared and sniffling and crying,” when dropped off at Atkins High School, because many times, they are pre-K students being brought to a school with students a decade older than them.

“We always feel sorry for the children, because usually they’re tiny and they’re afraid and they’re dealing with people they don’t know,” Childers said.

The staff member then needs to put their tasks on hold to care for the child.

“If you’re dealing with a scared 5-year-old, you can’t just turn your back and say, ‘Oh, you know, read a book,’” Childers said.

Most of the time, Childers said, parents come to pick their children up within 45 minutes. However, there have been times where a parent didn’t arrive to pick up their child until 6 p.m.

“Regardless of how much we work to try to make that child feel comfortable, they still are in a strange place, with strangers until mom and dad come and rescue them,” he said.

Sometimes the school system cannot contact the parents, in which case they call law enforcement to pick up the child and attempt to locate the parent. Other times, the school system may contact DSS.

“I guess they don’t like when they have to drive all the way across town to pick up their kid but that’s the price you pay when you’re not at the bus stop to pick your kid up,” Wright said.

Guilford County Schools officials say they do not keep track of how many students are unescorted at their bus stops. Their policy is that all students pre-K through second grade must have someone meet them at the bus stop and if there is nobody there, they return the child to their school.