Maui school bus driver Cheryl Kuanoni was recently forced to leave five children behind because of a shortage of buses.
She posted on social media Thursday about the heartbreak of having to leave the young children behind after filling her bus' 72-seat capacity. Kuanoni even offered to remove her own kids from the bus. Parents say refusing keiki shouldn't even have to be an option.
"I read a post saying that the bus driver was crying because she was forced to leave behind five kids and the kids were asking her, ‘Why auntie, why can't I get on the bus?." said parent Natalie Darisay. Darisay soon realized one of those keiki was her own 6-year-old daughter Ka'ua. It was her second day back to school and her first time using the bus.
"I couldn't imagine how she was feeling," Darisay said. "When I got a call from the school saying that she was one of the five that had to be left behind, I had so many emotions going through me." Darisay was on her way to work but quickly re-routed to pick up her daughter from Paia Elementary School. When she arrived at the school, Ka'ua had already been put on another bus.
"At first, I was scared. Now, I was just mad and scared. I didn't know where my daughter was at that point."
Other parents whose keiki take the bus say the uncertainty of their children making it home is unacceptable.
"It’s scary to know that your kid might not be coming home on the bus, then thinking about how the kids feel when they get left behind," said parent Kalae Kaeo.
Island News reached out to bus operator Roberts Hawaii but were not able to get a comment.
The Department of Education said it is making immediate arrangements with Roberts to furnish more seats at Paia Elementary School by replacing the 72-passenger vehicle with a higher capacity vehicle. Other areas of Maui are being affected by a shortage of bus drivers at another vendor, Ground Transport, Inc. That shortage has affected an estimated 683 students in Lahaina, Wailuku, and Kahului, prompting the DOE to consolidate bus routes in certain areas of the island. Louis Gomes, President of Ground Transport, says they are working to hire 14 more drivers to fill those temporarily suspended areas. "The first week of school, we've hired on a number of drivers that are currently going through the training," he said. "There's a rigorous training that has to be done, background checks and everything, before we can put the drivers on the road."