School board asked to reverse bus decision

FORT FRANCES—Nearly 40 parents, teachers, and concerned citizens from Atikokan attended the Rainy River District School Board meeting here Tuesday night to protest its decision not to replace Atikokan High School’s bus and to ask trustees to reconsider.
Another 40 people were on a bus to attend the meeting but had to turn back because of the weather, according to AHS teacher Shane Fiore, who addressed the board on behalf of the delegation.
Also on that bus was a petition signed by 600 Atikokan residents asking the board to revisit the issue of purchasing a new school bus for AHS.
Tuesday night’s meeting was held in the gym at Robert Moore School to accommodate the large crowd on hand.
At the board’s March 6 meeting in Emo, trustees voted against a motion to replace the 12-year-old school bus used for special school programs and courses at AHS.
The bus is not used to transport students between home and school.
AHS principal Darryl Gannon made a presentation to the board’s finance/transportation committee on Feb. 5 to outline the importance of the bus to the school.
Education Director Jack McMaster told the Times last month that the board’s decision was made out of their concern for risk management, not cost.
Liabilities, including breakdowns and repairs, as well as insurance and accidents, were the main motivation for the board’s decision, he said.
McMaster also insisted AHS still would be able to run all its programs by contracting out the bus service.
The board even has budgeted for additional funding for AHS to take into account the extra busing costs.
“If our bus is not replaced, the students at Atikokan High School will suffer,” Fiore told trustees at Tuesday night’s meeting.
“Future innovative programs will be curtailed,” he warned. “Staff and local administration at Atikokan High School is 100 percent unanimous in believing this to be true.”
Following the board’s decision last month, the parent council at AHS organized a public meeting March 21 and students at the high school staged a walk-out in protest.
“Why have local people not been consulted about this issue?” Fiore asked.
Richard Wood, owner of M&C Motors in Atikokan, promised to do all maintenance and repair work on a new bus at cost for its full 12-year lifespan, he added.
This could save the board about $12,000 over 12 years, Fiore said, noting this was an example of how strongly people in Atikokan feel about the bus.
“What philosophical issue could be more important than putting students first?” Fiore asked.
The bus at AHS is driven by five teachers who have obtained their Class ‘B’ licences on their own time.
It is used for about 180 trips a year. Of these, about 25 percent are related to the “Outers” and NRT programs while another 15 percent are NorWOSSA related.
The remaining 60 percent of the trips are for other classes, such as a joint Media Arts and Travel and Tourism trip planned next week to Ely, Mn. and the Twin Cities.
“Our bus is a vital tool for us. It is a classroom,” Fiore stressed.
He concluded by asking the board to introduce a motion to reconsider its decision, but to defer the re-vote until its next meeting, which is scheduled for May 1 in Atikokan.
He also asked the board to call a special meeting in Atikokan so the public can address trustees directly on the issue.
Following Fiore’s presentation, First Nations trustee Gary Allen thanked him for his efforts and apologized for not attending the public meeting in Atikokan last month.
“When you come from a First Nation, you’re constantly having to deal with the provincial and federal governments,” he said. “Today, I feel like I’m on the other end and I don’t like being in that position.
“I appreciate the passion you showed tonight [Tuesday],” he added.
Allen noted he was not at the board’s March 6 meeting in Emo but that he would have voted in favour of replacing the bus had he been present.
The board had defeated the motion 5-1.
Board chair Dan Belluz also thanked Fiore for his presentation, but noted no action would be taken at this time.
“I don’t think we’re prepared to make any resolution,” he said.
Belluz also pointed out the board has allocated an additional $10,000 to AHS to cover the costs of contracting out busing services, as well as another $3,000 specifically for “Outers” and NRT.
AHS also will receive the proceeds of the sale of the bus.
“Programs at the school will be well-supported next year and into the future,” Belluz said in a memorandum to AHS students, staff, parents, and guardians.
< *c>First responders
Also at Tuesday night’s meeting, paramedic John Beaton spoke to the board about the First Responder Team at Fort Frances High School and about their efforts to fundraise for two automatic external defibrillators (AED) there.
While a school may seem an unusual place for a defibrillator, Beaton noted many adults attend sporting events, theatrical productions, and ceremonies at the school and Townshend Theatre.
As well, youths can experience cardiac arrest from a hard blow to the chest, as sometimes occurs in sports.
Fort High has had a First Responder Team to respond to medical emergencies during school hours for the past four years.
“We’ve trained 46 students over the past four years,” noted Beaton. “We currently have 18 on our team.”
The students go through training two or three times a month in an advanced level of First Aid and CPR.
Defibrillators are becoming increasingly common in schools, Beaton noted.
In terms of liability, volunteers are protected under Ontario’s Good Samaritan Law, he added.
The cost of the two defibrillators (one for each floor of the school) is just under $5,000.
Beaton said he would donate the cost of training the students on the equipment.
So far, they have raised about $2,500, with donations from MacDonald Motors, the Rainy River Valley Safety Coalition, the Fort Frances Kiwanis Club, and Royal Bank of Canada.
Individual donations can be made through the Heart and Stroke’s “Start a Heart, Save a Life” campaign on its website.
Ian Simpson, assistant superintendent of education, thanked Beaton for his “tremendous” work with the students.