Prepare for traffic slowdowns Monday as children gather at bus stops before dawn, slow-moving buses drive their routes and car-pool lines spill out of schools.
Monday is the first day of school for most of North Carolina’s 1.5 million public school students, including almost 150,000 in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. CMS will have 1,078 buses on the road, some leaving their lots before 5 a.m.
The CMS buses have been driving practice runs all week, but new drivers are still being hired. And there’s always some confusion as families try to figure out new routines.
“There’s going to be buses making incorrect routes, there’ll be parents that’ll be pulling into the wrong areas in school,” said Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Sgt. Jesse Wood. “It’s going to take a while for that pattern to feel like a routine.”
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Officials urge commuters to leave early and drive carefully. Children could dart into streets before daylight, and roads near schools are likely to be clogged. The area near Mallard Creek High in northeast Charlotte may be especially bad, with one of the major arteries still blocked by a sinkhole that opened on Mallard Creek Road in mid-August.
Wood said police will keep a particularly close eye on school zones during the first week of classes. He said drivers should take school zone speed limits at face value to avoid getting tickets.
“You should not be going 27 miles an hour if the speed limit is 25 miles an hour in that area,” he said. The penalty for passing a bus is a hefty fine and five points on a driver’s license, he added.
CMS urges parents to accompany children to bus stops for the first few days of school, not only for their safety but to help them get on the right bus. Because the district offers numerous magnet schools, getting on the wrong bus at a neighborhood stop could land the child at another school. Charter and private schools may also have buses making stops nearby.
“You can anticipate late buses for the first couple of weeks,” as the district sorts out who’s really riding buses and adjusts routes, said CMS Transportation Director Janet Thomas.
CMS plans to introduce an app that lets families track their child’s bus, but that won’t be ready until fall.
Families with questions about CMS transportation or school assignments can call 980-343-6715, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays.