Parents frustrated by school board bus policy
By Sue Tiffin
Published Sept. 7, 2017
It’s the first week for many students across the province to go back to school, or to walk through the front doors of school for the first time.
Across the county, parents – some more so than their students – are nervous as their children get onto a bus that seems to swallow them whole, or step into a classroom filled with other first-time kindergarteners.
But for Minden residents Jamie and Carol Walker, the nerves have less to do with taking transportation, or the newness of an unfamiliar classroom, and more with the route their four-year-old son, Bobby, would need to walk in order to attend school – junior kindergarten (JK) – for the first time.
The Walkers live on Deep Bay Road, about 1.2 kilometres from Archie Stouffer Elementary School, in the farmhouse Jamie grew up in. When he was a boy, the bus stopped at the end of his driveway to pick Jamie up for school. Nowadays, although a bus route passes his house each day, Trillium Lakelands District School Board (TLDSB) policy states that students from JK to Grade 8 living within 1.6 kilometres of a school are ineligible for bus pick-up.
“My whole childhood career, I was picked up at the end of the driveway,” said Walker. “Now we’re going backwards in time. Back in those days we were supposed to be tough children, which we weren’t. And now that we’re protecting our children even more, now they’re driving right by.”
The TLDSB walking distances, which also require students from Grade 9 to Grade 12 to walk to school if they live 3.2 km from the school building, have been in place since a common transportation policy was implemented following the amalgamation of the Haliburton, Muskoka and Victoria school boards in September 2000. The walk to bus stop distance was reduced from 3.2 km to 1.6 km for secondary students and from 1.6 km to 0.8 km for elementary students in September 2006.
The Walkers have expressed their concern about the route Bobby would have to walk, which they said is in a 70 km/h zone with no shoulders, and is a major route that passes the emergency entrance to the hospital and helipad. They’ve reached out to the school board, the school board trustee, and MPP Laurie Scott’s office. They said that their school board trustee, Gary Brohman, empathized with the situation and offered suggestions, and Scott’s office noted that transportation decisions are made at the local school board level.
“[The school board has] absolutely dug in their heels and said to me they see nothing unsafe with that,” said Jamie. “How can you tell me it’s safe for him to walk to school? Now if an air ambulance is coming in, or just a driving ambulance, police cars – I think it’s pretty overwhelming for a four-year-old child myself. I don’t want anybody in trouble, but has common sense just gone totally by the wayside?”
The school board responded to questions from the Minden Times through email by their communications department.
“Driveway entrances are not considered a safety concern as students walking to school or to the bus stop pass driveway entrances daily,” read the email. “The Board’s responsibility for students who are not eligible for transportation on a school bus will commence with the student’s entrance to the school and will terminate with the student’s exit from the school. The Board assumes no responsibility for students between their home and the school. Parents/guardians are responsible for getting students safely to and from school if the student is not eligible for transportation.”
With Jamie working out of town, and Carol working an 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. shift, the Walkers have relied on family in the past to help drive their kids to school. They said they began discussing the situation with the school board when Carol was pregnant with Bobby four years ago, hoping the bus that goes by their house could stop at the end of their driveway, like the high school bus does now for their older son. The Walkers have resisted sending Bobby to walk to school, by securing continued help from family and with Carol’s employer granting a change in working hours to allow her time in the morning to drop Bobby at school before driving to the office in Haliburton, but they said that strain on their daily life could be avoided.
“That doesn’t give Carol a lot of time,” said Jamie. “That puts her...racing.”
“We’ve heard many stories where they’ve had to change their family routines to get their kids to a bus stop down the road because the bus won’t stop,” said Carol. “As a parent, I’m concerned about my child’s safety, and that should be No. 1. All they care about is that kilometre distance and it boggles my mind. That’s all I keep hearing in the emails and on the phone, is the kilometres, and we’re shy, what, point four kilometres?”
Jamie said that since reaching out to others, some suggestions that have been offered include moving the 911 sign at the end of their driveway down the road on their property, or that the kids take a shortcut through a field that he said is filled with six feet of snow in the winter.
“Even my place being 1.2 kilometres away, that means my four-year-old has to walk 2.4 kilometres in the dead of winter,” said Jamie. “Four years old is pretty young to start school to begin with, and then to add that on a 30 below morning ... I’m not asking for a miracle, the bus goes right by my door and it’s totally safe to be picked up, there’s no issues with the driveway.”
Jamie said the bus driver who passes the Walkers’ driveway told him there are about eight kids on her bus, with a capacity of 24.
TLDSB staff visited the Walkers to confirm the actual distance from the house to the school, but Jamie said there’s a discrepancy between what he measured as far as walking route and what the school board measured.
The school board communications department won’t comment on individual cases, but said they take all concerns seriously and address them according to policy and procedure.
“As per the transportation procedure, walking distances are determined from where the student’s driveway meets the year round municipally maintained road or where the municipally unmaintained road meets the year round municipally maintained road,” read the email from the TLDSB communications department in response.
The TLDSB buses in excess of 12,900 students annually. In Haliburton County, 1,410 elementary students and 439 secondary students attend school, with 1,522 of those students being eligible for transportation. At ASES, 415 students attend the school, and 366 students are eligible for transportation.
A press release issued by the Haliburton Highlands OPP on Aug. 25 reminded drivers to be aware of school buses back on the roads as the school year starts, and also to drive safely around students walking to and from school.
“Many children walk and bike to school and motorists should also be aware of the increased pedestrian traffic and to be ready to stop at all times as children do not always notice oncoming traffic,” read the release.