OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. – A mother in Osceola County took her daughter to the bus stop Monday morning for the first day of school, only to discover moments later that the girl wasn't allowed on the bus.
"(My daughter came) back and says, 'Mom, the bus is only for the boys.' (And I said), 'What do you mean, it's only for the boys?'" Catherine Borrero said.
Borrero took her frustrations to her Facebook page after learning her daughter would have to wait for an all-girls school bus. At first, Borrero thought the situation boiled down to a misunderstanding, so she asked the bus driver what was going on.
"She's like, 'Well, we're separating the boys and the girls. Another bus is coming for the girls.' I (asked) him, 'What is this?'" Borrero said. "And he said, 'Oh, this is a new policy.' (And I said), 'New policy? I haven't gotten any information.'"
Borrero said she and her daughter had to wait another 15 to 20 minutes for the girls bus to arrive to take the child to Reedy Creek Elementary School.
Borrero said she never received any notice from Osceola County Public Schools and now she has to explain to her fourth-grader why she can't ride the bus with her friends.
"She's so young," Borrero said. "She's seeing this separation. She doesn't understand why her friend that has been riding with her for the past two years is now riding on a different bus."
Shawn Tucker, director of transportation for Osceola County Schools, said this isn't a new procedure.
In fact, he said this procedure has been in place for more than 10 years. Tucker said it's not an issue of gender, rather overcrowded routes.
"We have a lot (higher) numbers than we anticipated that's coming in. We found it easier to make a boys bus and a girls bus and a siblings," Tucker said.
According to Tucker, Borrerro's daughter's route may have never had an overcrowding issue until this year. That may be the reasoning behind the change.
After posting about the incident on social media, other parents in Borrero's comment section started speaking out about their concerns.
News 6 asked the school district for a comment, and officials sent a statement, saying: "We don't have a policy but rather a practice. ... If the number of students at a bus stop exceeds the capacity of the bus, we divide it by male/female rather than alphabetically, as it is quicker for the driver to ensure that we know who is on which bus. This practice has been done for well over 10 years."
The school system has tried alternative ways to solve the overcrowding issue, but said this works best in regard to allowing the bus driver to get to know their students.
"We have tried several different ways. Years ago we tried doing kindergarten through third grade and then fourth and fifth grade on a bus and we found that to be a little hard because you don't always know which grade your child is in or the students in until you get to know them," Tucker said.
News 6 reached out to other surrounding school districts, including ones in Volusia, Flagler and Marion counties, and all said they do not have this type of practice in place.
A representative with Osceola County schools said the practice is not set in stone, adding that school board members will listen to parents' concerns.