School Bus Switches: Parents asked to give notice days in advance

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. (Valley News Live) - "I remember back when I was a kid, I'd always just go up to the bus driver and say, 'Oh, I need to go to this person's house. And my parents would be like, 'Well, where did you go?'" says Raymond Gillette, who's now a parent himself.

But those days of kids just hopping on friends' school buses are over in Detroit Lakes. The school district says that system lead to a lot of confusion and fear for local families.

"There were many instances over the years where a kid - maybe they don't come home. Well, they weren't on the bus. And that made it difficult for us to account for where they might be," says Doug Froke, Detroit Lakes Public Schools' Superintendent. "If there was a report of a missing child, there was an extensive protocol that we have to go through to identify who that child was, where they went, and in many occasions it involved law enforcement."

"If I didn't know where my kid was, I'd be worried," says Emma Swenson, a Detroit Lakes parent.

Now, families are required to send in notes two to three days before their student rides another bus. Even though it was done in the name of safety, some parents were initially upset with the lack of flexibility.

"We do require of parents that if there is going to be a birthday party or if there's going to be a sleepover – those things are planned in advance," Froke says. "When it first came out, there were some people that maybe thought it was a little too rigid."

But the district says the plan is working, and now parents are coming around.

"We went from a model of public transport to one where, 'This is our service. We pick up kids in the morning, we drop them off at a determined location in the evening. That's what we do,'" says Froke. "The number of investigations we've had to conduct over the years of missing children no longer are there to the degree it once was. So that means the policy is working."

"It's good to know they can't just get on any bus, I guess, but hopefully my kids would know better too," says Swenson.

"It's kind of a good thing because sometimes kids today just get caught up with their friends and are like, 'Oh, let's go here, let's go there and then not tell anyone and everybody's wondering where they're at. And it's never a good thing when you don't know where your kids are nowadays," Gillette adds.

We checked with other school districts about their policies. Fargo Public Schools says it does not have a policy in place. In West Fargo, the district wants to know by noon if there is a change in what bus the student will ride that afternoon. And Moorhead says parents need to give their children's' schools notice the day of any change in ridership, with students in grade 7 and up giving notice as early in the day as possible.

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