A dispute between U.S. Student Services of Woodland and its drivers left 93 students stranded on Monday morning. Some of the students the firm failed to pick up were transported to school by their parents while others missed a day, according to school officials.
9 of the company’s 34 routes were not picked up due to a payment dispute between the firm and its drivers. U.S. Student Services is the same firm that came close to losing all its routes, worth $1.4 million, in September for putting Paterson “children at risk.”
Representatives for U.S. Student Services did not respond to multiple calls for comment on Monday afternoon.
The firm is owned by Rafat Umer and Basonthory Bibi. It is registered out of a residential address at 30 Willow Way in Woodland Park, according to state government records.
Anthony Van Zwaren, attorney, who represented U.S. Student Services in September, did not have any information about the situation. He was retained last year to handle the company’s fight against the district to keep its routes.
The school district at first downplayed the situation that unfolded in the morning.
The bus company had no knowledge of which routes were impacted by the bus drivers’ boycott. District officials were only able to identify the impacted routes after parents began complaining about their children being left stranded by the company’s buses.
Terry Corallo, spokeswoman for the Paterson Public Schools, said superintendent Eileen Shafer met with the company’s owner and attorney on Monday afternoon.
“She demanded full compliance and pick up of these students this afternoon. Having set a 1:30 timeline for their response, the owner expressed their intention to comply and they did comply this afternoon,” said Corallo.
The bus company picked up students in the afternoon, said Corallo. She said the dispute between the drivers and management has been resolved as of Monday afternoon.
“Anything could have happened to those kids,” said school board member Emanuel Capers, who has been a vocal critic of private bus companies, when contacted for comments on Monday afternoon. “Those kids could have been kidnapped.”
“Anytime a single one of our students is put at risk, I’m disturbed. 93 is totally unacceptable,” added school board member Jonathan Hodges.
School board president Oshin Castillo did not respond to a call for comment for this story.
The latest problem involving a bus company follows an incident two Saturday’s ago involving another firm. A 16-passenger school bus owned by Sarah Transportation, a firm with numerous violations, lost two wheels on the ramp of the NJ Turnpike with half-dozen students on board.
It was only with “the grace of God” that a tragedy was averted, noted a teacher, who was on board with the students.
U.S. Student Services racked up 21 infractions this school year as of Feb. 28, 2018 for failure to pick up students, leaving students unattended, and putting drivers behind the wheel without commercial driving privilege.
The district assessed $9,400 in penalties against U.S. Student Services for the violations. Earlier in the year, Shafer moved to take away 37 routes from U.S. Student Services following two incidents – a young child was left on the bus and an accident was not reported to the district. The firm sued and the district settled.
The company lost just three routes.
“We need to own our own buses,” said Capers, who has been lobbying to create an in-house busing program. “A lot of other districts don’t have to deal with this type of issues.”