By Jeff Wagner

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A Minneapolis Public Schools parent wants answers after her 5-year-old daughter never got off the bus Tuesday afternoon, leading to several hours of searching.

This comes in the midst of a bus driver shortage for the district. Parents were advised it could lead to delays, especially this week.

Tuesday night, a spokesperson with MPS said he could not comment specifically on this case because the people who manage the bus routes had already left for the day.

To be clear, WCCO was not able to give the district the specific bus route number, nor the student’s name until after 7 p.m.

It is the second week for Minneapolis Public Schools, but the first for several other neighboring districts.

Because of that, MPS warned parents in a letter that the bus driver shortage would be amplified, as bus companies across the city would be competing for drivers.

According to a letter, families would notice, “more than the usual number of late buses.”

One mother, whose 5-year-old daughter attends Windom Dual Immersion School, said her daughter was supposed to get off the bus at 2:20 p.m. — but never did.

She tried calling the school, but said nobody answered the phone. She said she went to the school, but the doors were locked.

When trying to call the district’s transportation line, a woman who was assisting the mother said they were put on hold for close to an hour.

The mother told WCCO that it was until around 6 p.m. that she was able to pick up her daughter at the district’s transportation services building.

A spokesperson with the district said transportation employees who might normally be answering the phones were instead driving buses because of the shortage. The district normally has 150 drivers, but is 26 short.

In the letter to parents, they were told, “If your student is late and you are concerned, please call your schools for information and updates.”

When asked why nobody answered at Windom, the spokesperson gave this response:

Each school is supposed to have a transportation coordinator who takes calls and answers questions. At times those transportation coordinators have to call the district transportation center for info, and those people were also experiencing increased call times today. When students are left on the bus or miss a stop, there is a reunification process. Sometimes students get off on the wrong stop, and we do our best to make sure those situations are handled quickly and safely as well.

The spokesperson said a number of families have experienced issues with transportation this school year, and added this response:

We are sorry for that and doing everything possible to manage those things that are within our control. There will continue to be challenges outside of our control, such as construction and the overall metro-wide driver shortage, and in those cases we will work to keep families informed and keep students safe until they arrive home.

Jeff Wagner