The city’s bus operation has faced harsh criticism the past two weeks, and some parents’ anger finally boiled over at Thursday’s Board of Aldermen meeting when recounting instances of overcrowded buses, children arriving home significantly late, dropped off at wrong locations or not picked up at all.

Residents demanded city officials, specifically Mayor Mark Lauretti, detail what is being done to correct such issues, and install a proper method of communication between Shelton Student Transportation Services officials and parents and students.

“One of the big problems is no one is telling us what is happening,” said Angela Pellegrino-Grant, who organized the protest of the city’s handling of the bus operation in front of city hall Tuesday, Sept. 3, “and more than that no one is accepting responsibility. I care about who is looking out for our children, and I do not feel you are looking out for our children.”

Pellegrino-Grant said when she spoke at the protest, she called for communication from the mayor and Board of Aldermen on what was going to happen with the student transportation system.

“What we have gotten since then is largely silence except for ‘We’re working on it.’ ‘We’ll get back to you.’ ‘It will all work out eventually.’ The thing is, is that is not acceptable,” added Pellegrino-Grant.

A handful of residents spoke during the aldermen meeting’s public portion, voicing complaints about Shelton Student Transportation Services’ operation. After the residents spoke on this, the mayor closed the public portion with no comment on the bus situation or the residents’ concerns.

“I am disgusted,” said Diana Meyer, a Democratic Board of Education candidate, who spoke during the public portion. “People spoke on this for 30, 40 minutes, and the mayor failed to address it.”

Lisa Hurlbert handed the Board of Aldermen and Lauretti a photo of her child’s bus, which was overcrowded with children sitting in the aisles. She described how fellow parents had children whose buses were changed with no notice, which in many cases led to the student not being picked up.

"Parents need to be able to call a number and get a response or need to be able to leave a message and have faith that that message will be responded to,” said Hurlbert. “I don’t think there is that faith right now.”

Suzanne Adan, a parent of three students, said her 3-year-old nonverbal autistic son was stranded at Mohegan School Wednesday, Sept. 11, due to a bus breaking down, which forced her to scramble to find someone to watch her other child while she was waiting for her child who was already en route home.

Adan said she is concerned about bus maintenance as well as the staffing.

"My experience with the contract drivers has not been the best,” said Adan. “I had the door literally shut in my face and experienced rudeness I have not felt over the three years my children have used the buses. We need Shelton drivers who know the Shelton routes.”

Judson Crawford said he was sitting in Dunkin Donuts when he observed a moving bus, with students walking the aisle and the bus’ front door was wide open. He said he ran out to try and catch the bus, and when he did, the door had finally been shut.

Meyer spoke on behalf of a friend, who stated that she was told her son, a special needs student whose IEP calls for him to ride a bus with typical peers, with door-to-door curbside pickup and a bus monitor, but she was told he would need to ride a bus for the handicapped along with other special needs students.

Meyer said her friend was told that it was more economical for students needing a monitor to be grouped on one handicapped accessible bus — an action in direct violation of an IEP. She said she was told she would need to sign a waiver, saying he did not need a monitor to stay on a regular bus.

This woman, after pushing back against this decision, was able to keep her son on the regular bus without signing any waiver, according to Meyer, who then read a statement from her friend: “This may seem small to many but look at the bigger issue. The city was willing to violate the rights of a special needs student in order to seemingly save money. Children are not inventory to be shuffled around in the name of efficiency and cost savings.”

Pellegrino-Grant said the one positive throughout this situation has been those residents who have come together to aid others — people like Elizabeth Shelton School Principal Beverly Belden, who rode a bus to make sure all kids got home on a route that was constantly having problems with children coming off crying; the police who picked up a student dropped at an after-school program in which she was not enrolled in; and like those parents who formed carpools when their bus did not show up to take children to school.

“It makes me feel really good about being in Shelton because we are a community and we pull together,” said Pellegrino-Grant, “but none of that should have happened. It should not have happened, and there should be apologies to those parents and us, as a community of parents.”

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com