BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — On the first day of the new school year, issues have already begun for school bus routes in West Seneca.

According to the school district, 405 students, around 7% of the entire district, are “unaccounted for” in the routing process.

The district said that over the summer the district adopted new bus routing software and “all systems appeared to be functioning soundly, however, once the system was pressure tested with actual bus runs, the system and software did not interface correctly and created delays and false errors,” the district said in a statement on Thursday.

News 4 received several reports from parents that their children were not picked up for school on Thursday morning or picked up after the school day ended on the district’s first day of school on Thursday. Parents of affected students received a robocall after 3 p.m., saying that they needed to pick their students up from school, and that the parent portal on the district website would be updated daily with the bus schedules.

“It was like it was their first day of school. Like it was a new district and all the schools popped up out of the ground this morning,” Brian Zipp, who has two students in elementary school in the district, said.

Parents say they usually receive their student’s bus assignments during the last week of August. This year parents were supposed to receive the assignments on a new, online portal, but more than 400 students were left without a bus on Thursday morning.

“We shouldn’t have to be calling transportation for two days with nobody answering and leaving messages with no one calling. I called the school this morning. Nobody called me back, still haven’t called me back.”

“I called 28 times. My phone shows I called 28 times to find out what time and what’s going on,” Catherine Niemira, who has two sons in West Seneca elementary schools, added. “I do not have a very high confidence level with the busing garage.”

Zipp says he doesn’t buy the software failure and blames the district for a lack of planning.

“Did you test the software out this morning or two days ago? Not a week ago? Everything just took too long,” Zipp added.

News 4 also heard from parents from the Queen of Heaven School who experienced the same problems, and Queen of Heaven has not returned our request for comment.

Niemira’s 7-year-old son has autism and is non-verbal. At one point on Thursday, she didn’t know where her son was, leaving her terrified and emotional until he finally made it home.

“We were told by the office that he was sent home. I emailed his teacher, my husband left, the teacher says no, he is still here, but he now has a bus number and he is being sent on that bus number,” Niemira added. “He was really upset because he was placed on a bus, taken off the bus and then placed on another bus and for autistic children that is really hard for them with change.”

School districts in the area have been plagued by school bus driver shortages as the new school year begins. Buffalo Public Schools continues to struggle with a school bus driver shortage, while the Niagara Falls City School District announced that it would go to tiered start times to deal with a driver shortage.

News 4 reached out to West Seneca Central Schools for an on-camera interview, but our request was not returned. We received a statement that was sent to families on Thursday afternoon.

“Be assured that we are working diligently with the expertise of both our software vendor and our bus app providers to remedy the issues we experienced today,” the West Seneca District said. “We are sorry for the inconvenience this has caused you.”

Friday afternoon, The West Seneca Board of Education issued the following statement:

We are aware of, and equally disappointed by, the issues the District has experienced with
providing reliable bus service to you this week. We highly regret the negative impact the lack of
reliability our transportation system has had on families, staff, and also our transportation
department. Our interim superintendent understands and agrees with the need for accountability for systems that have failed to operate this week. We have been told that the problem will be solved with expediency, and we have called for a full accounting of what went wrong, why, and how we can prevent future difficulties with a service that is so essential to you, our families. As the governance body of the school system, and through our role as elected officials, we promise to serve the children and families of this community. We are working toward solving our systems issues with the greatest urgency. We are committed to doing better.

West Seneca BOE

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Aidan Joly joined the News 4 staff in 2022. He is a graduate of Canisius College. You can see more of his work here.

Tara Lynch is a Buffalo native and Emmy nominated reporter who joined the News 4 team in 2022. She previously worked at WETM in Elmira, N.Y., a sister station of News 4. You can follow Tara on Facebook and Twitter and find more of her work here.