Parents call for school busing policy change

Peggy Revell

Citing discrimination and safety issues, parents called for the Rainy River District School Board to revisit its busing transportation policy at last night’s meeting.
“We want to see this policy changed. To see it changed to better suit the needs of all of our students, of all of our families and communities,” Jackie McCormick told the newly-sworn in trustees.
Earlier this fall, the Stratton resident had submitted a petition bearing 350 signatures to the board requesting changes to the transportation policy, and last night had another 55 signatures to add.
As a parent, McCormick encountered an issue with the board’s transportation policy when her day-care provider was going to be away for a brief period of time, meaning she would have to make temporary arrangements for child care, she told trustees.
“I arranged for alternative child care, however I needed to have somewhere else for my son to get off the bus,” she explained.
McCormick noted she submitted the required paperwork to the board a week-and-a-half prior to when the change was needed, asking that her son get off one stop earlier on his regular bus route—a stop which other children already were being dropped off at.
Her request was denied.
“I started my journey talking to other parents and from this issue found out that there were other issues arising with parents throughout the district,” McCormick said.
These included:
•parents having to go back to family court to re-negotiate custody and access agreements in order to accommodate the busing policy;
•families where the only option has been to remove their children from school for a week because parents/caregivers were away and no alternative arrangements could be found (a solution McCormick said was given to her by the transportation office);
•absenteeism due to parents having to pick up their children earlier in the school day;
•parents sitting in their driveway watching the bus go by, and driving out after it onto the highway and down the road to the next stop to pick up a child, then returning to their home;
•children having to lose their jobs because the policy won’t allow them to stay on the bus past their regular stop in order to get off at a later stop where their job may be;
•parents who have tried to call in emergency requests for stops, but can’t get a hold of people at the board office; and
•parents with an emergency being required to phone several times, write letters, and make faxes of various documentation of their emergency situation—something that’s burdensome when the parents already are dealing with an emergency.
“It seems against the grain of common sense some of these things happening,” McCormick remarked, noting the current policy can’t accommodate parents who work on call, shift work, casual, and such.
As well, in talking with parents, McCormick said they’ve discovered “inconsistencies” with how the board’s transportation policy is applied and enforced.
“I’ve had parents report that, ‘Oh yeah, when I’m working, the kids go to the baby-sitter, when I’m not working, they go home. It’s four on, four off, there’s no set schedule,’” she recounted, or parents saying their kids get off the school bus wherever they needed to.
“If there are rules, they’re not set and nobody’s enforcing them, and some people are getting courtesy transportation or alternative transportation and others are not,” she stressed.
Ultimately, these sorts of policies are discriminatory towards students who are required to take the bus as opposed to those who walk, McCormick argued, pointing to how students who walk aren’t monitored so that they only go to a certain address or location after school.
“It’s also discriminatory towards students whose parents share custody,” McCormick added. “We are not able to set up an address for mom and an address for dad, and that’s the way it should be.
“They should be able to go to either parent’s house,” she noted, pointing to how in school, bylaws and policies state the board should work to not discriminate based on parental marital status.
As well, McCormick argued the policy is discriminatory towards parents who work casual or shift work, and have no access to formal day care.
In meeting with the board’s previous transportation committee, McCormick said the reasoning which they had been told that the policy is the way it is actually works in favour of why it should be changed.
For example, she noted safety was one of the reasons listed. But the current policy isn’t safe, and “poses some serious safety concerns for our students,” she stressed, such as those getting off at their stop, but then having to walk along the side of the highway, streets with no sidewalks, or streets with lots of traffic to get to their alternative address.
Safety was one of the many reasons that Stratton parent Tara Montague, who also made a public presentation to the board last night, said the current policy needed to change.
Montague spoke to the board, hoping to “put a human face” on how the policy affects a family in the community, citing the example of her son who currently is only allowed to ride on one bus—despite his parents being separated and having two primary residences which he spends time at equally.
“[He] was denied permission to ride on both buses because his schedule was considered [not regular],” Montague told trustees, noting that in meeting with the transportation committee, there have been various definitions of what the term “regular” means.
Creating an alternative schedule to the existing one would require going back to family court and re-negotiating a parental schedule, she added.
“For anyone who has been through family court, it’s not as easy said as ‘just redo your schedule,’” she stressed.
“When you’re looking at the different policies, and maybe reformulating the policies, then remember that ‘regular’ really does need to be clearly defined and not be subjective, because at this point we’ve been presented with three or four different ideas of what ‘regular’ is,” Montague said.
But she “passed talking about what’s fair” two weeks ago “when it actually began about being safe and unsafe.”
“I have actually been subjected to unsafe driving conditions because [my son] has not been allowed on the bus,” Montague said.
“I’ve been behind buses. I’ve been not only the parent behind the bus, I’ve been stuck in the ditch trying to get my son to school as the bus drove past me.”
When it comes to getting to school, Montague pointed to how the school bus is the safest mode of transportation—and her son is being denied it.
“Although it is intended, the policy as written, to be as safe as possible, right now you’re asking at least one family, my family, to be in a very unsafe situation,” she remarked.
Proposed changes to the transportation policy suggested by McCormick include:
•parents just having to make “one phone call” to arrange transportation in an emergency situation;
•parents being able to request alternative transportation when required for the purposes of child care and employment—dependent on room on the bus, and not asking for an extension of the bus route; and
•all requests for alternative transportation occurring at the school level, with information housed at the school level.
“I hope, as a board, you can consider all of the options and do what is best for the needs of the students, families, and the communities who have been elected to serve,” said McCormick.
Given the school board is newly-elected, a new transportation committee has yet to be formed.
But new board chair Michael Lewis said the board and transportation committee will be revisiting the policy.