BRANDON — Two hundred parents, teachers and school administrators crowded into a cafeteria at Burns Middle School Monday night for a town hall meeting with Hillsborough County school superintendent Mary Ellen Elia.
Among them was Becky Goodman, a Valrico mom who stood in front of the crowd and asked Elia to explain why Goodman's kindergarten daughter was mistakenly put on the bus at school and dropped off at a stop without a parent to meet her.
"There's a crack (in the system)," Goodman said into the microphone during the open forum. "My 5-year-old daughter fell through it."
Goodman was one of about 15 parents who addressed Elia. Concerns ranged from a new language arts curriculum to the long list of required school supplies.
But the most common topic was, of course, transportation.
Parents grilled Elia on why they weren't notified of bus stop changes before school started, why stops are located on busy thoroughfares and why transportation to and from magnet schools isn't more efficient.
"You're risking our kids," said Pearl Chiarenza, whose son has to stand at a busy bus stop on Bell Shoals Road in Brandon. "I want to know what you're going to do to fix it."
In most cases, Elia referred parents to transportation manager John Franklin.
Franklin promised one woman he'd get her daughter dropped off in front of her house tomorrow, instead of the 1.5 miles away her bus stop is now. He told others he'd look into their situation.
Franklin said he'd heard the same issues before — except for Goodman's.
Goodman didn't want to give her daughter's name or their address. The bus stop was at the corner of Washington Road and Silver Hill Place.
Goodman's daughter rode the bus in the mornings, but never in the afternoon. Somehow, on Aug. 25, staff at Valrico Elementary School put her on the bus home.
The bus driver dropped her off at the neighborhood bus stop, despite a district policy that says kindergartners must have someone there to meet them.
The girl, 5, walked about a quarter-mile home. Goodman had gone to the school to pick up her daughter, just like she does every day. Goodman realized what had happened, drove back home and found her daughter crying in the driveway.
"She can't even tie her shoes," Goodman told Elia, voice shaking as she described her small child walking home alone.
Goodman said the principal promised to set up a meeting with her and transportation officials but that never happened.
Elia, deputy superintendent Ken Otero and Franklin all said they had not heard about the incident. "That should never have happened," Elia told Goodman in front of the crowd. "I'm very, very sorry that happened."