Overcrowding of buses cited as reason for policy change, says school board official
© Matthew Veno - Truro Daily News
Several families are upset because they are being told the Chignecto Central Regional School Board will not bus their children to after-school care arrangements from Valley Elementary School. Some of the children are, front, from left, Hayden Langille, J.T. Inch, Ashtin Langille, Rachel Leggett, Ethan Inch and Declan Cameron. Parents are, back row, Trina Reid, Mary Leggett, Gail Inch and Tiffany Cameron.
VALLEY - John Inch is "beyond frustrated" with the situation his family has been put in by the Chignecto Central Regional School Board.
Inch, a 40-year-old East Mountain resident, and his wife Gail received a letter from the board last week which said as of Sept. 23 the board would no longer courtesy bus their two children, ages 8 and 6, from Valley Elementary School to their babysitter's home on College Road after school.
The development means the couple, along with the parents of up to 29 other children at the school, must find alternative methods to get their children to after-school care. That's not an easy task, Inch said, when he travels the province each day for work while his wife's job at Subway sometimes holds her until 6 p.m.
"I've read the policies and they're outdated," Inch said. "In today's society, not everyone can get off at 2 p.m. to go get their kids and to keep one parent home to do so is just not an option for some families. What are single parents supposed to do?"
Debbie Buott-Matheson, communications manager for the school board, said the decision was made after it was discovered courtesy bussing students - those who arrive at school in one manner and go to a different location after school, students who are within walking distance, or those outside the school's catchment area - were overloading the bus. Students who use the same bus in the morning and go back to the same location after school - dedicated busing students - are given priority. Courtesy bussing students are allowed on the bus if there is room.
School board staff were at the school on Monday performing head counts.
"In this case, the number of dedicated bussing students is the capacity of the bus, which is why it was said we can't transport any courtesy students."
Buott-Matheson said a request can be placed to have buses added to routes. That process has already been initiated by the school's principal and will be looked at by the board.
Tiffany Cameron is a Bible Hill resident who enrolled her Grade Primary-aged son at the school, even though they don't live in its catchment area, in order for him to travel to a babysitter after school. She said the board's crackdown is especially upsetting because both the school and board knew that's why she enrolled her son there.
"The school had to accept him and it had to be approved by the board, so they both knew he was going there so he could go on a bus and two weeks into school they say he can't," Cameron said.
Inch said he's also displeased with how he says the situation is being handled.
"I understand process and policies and that they exist for a reason," Inch said. "But there's a human side to things and any organization should have the opportunity to look at those policies and change them. But it just seems they're saying ‘this is the policy, and this is how it is.' It seems a solution is there, but they're hiding behind policy."
The Inch's children have been taking a bus to their babysitter, who until this year was located on Pictou Road, since both have been in school. Inch said it has never been an issue until now.
The board informed parents by sending letters with the bus drivers of impacted children on Sept. 16. The Inch's babysitter, who also takes in several other children after school, was given enough letters for each family a week before they were to find other arrangements.
But Inch said some families didn't get theirs until Sept. 19, leaving them just four days to come up with something.
Inch said the note was dated Sept. 10 and could have been sent out earlier, especially since, after discussing the situation with the board, he discovered the board realized there was an issue with courtesy busing back in June.
"But the policy said they have to give a week's notice so that's all they gave."
Since then, both Cameron and the Inchs have come up with temporary solutions, finding people who can pick up their kids from school.
But Cameron said a permanent solution is there if the board would allow it to happen. She said an empty bus passes her son's babysitter and several other daycare centres where kids went, at the same time it would be needed.
"Then it goes to Bible Hill junior high and sits there for 30 minutes," she said. "It would have enough time to pick up the kids and take them where they need to go but (the school board) isn't even acknowledging that as a solution."
Parents have organized a meeting on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at Valley-Kemptown Fire Hall. School board member Keith MacKenzie has already agreed to attend.
"I believe there's a solution if everyone was willing to pull in the same direction," Inch said.