Parents from three changed school bus routes in Fraser Lake and Vanderhoof voiced out safety concerns for their children at School District No.91’s board meeting in Vanderhoof on Sept. 21.
With those bus route portions cancelled, elementary and secondary school students will be walking through long roads frequented by wildlife and logging trucks, and at times far from the nearest residence in case of emergencies, said Erin Miller, who resides on Hargrave Road in Vanderhoof along with four other families.
“[The school board] say they couldn’t use wildlife [as a reason for bus pickups] because wildlife is everywhere, but when you’re in a rural setting and it’s dark with no street lights, no houses to run to, our children have no safety.” Miller said.
“To us it shouldn’t even be a question,” she said. “We’ll pay to have our kids picked up.”
Miller added that it’s challenging for working parents to adjust schedules around pickup times.
“It’s their job to pick our kids up safely, it’s our job to get our kids safely to the bus,” she said. “I understand that.”
In fact, the bus route portion on Hargrave Road was cancelled at the beginning of the last school year as well, and had been reinstated after the school board verified that logging trucks and gravel trucks would be accessing the road, Miller added.
“That was a safety concern and our children can be picked up,” she said. “And this year, I don’t know why it would be different.”
For Trina Evans on Fraser Lake’s Clearview Road and another parent on Aspen Drive in Vanderhoof, the cancelled route portions will be particularly concerning in winter when the cold air could exacerbate their children’s asthma symptoms during the over 30-minute walk to and from the bus stop.
Evans said she was told that her household, 2.1 km from the highway, had continued to receive a bus after the school board passed its 2.5-km walk distance policy in 2012 because of a physically disabled child who also lived on her road, but has now since moved away.
“If you can’t see a medical issue, does it mean the medical condition does not exist?” She said. “I have a child with asthma.”
Evans also found 2.5 km unreasonable for children to walk, especially with extreme temperatures and icy roads in the winter.
“I have timed a nine-year-old child and it takes 30 minutes to walk this distance one way, in good conditions,” she said. “There are children under nine that walk this.”
Currently transporting in excess of 1850 students with 33 bus routes and the possibility of a 34th route, the school district must look at each individual parent request for bussing consideration through a district lens so that decisions can be rationalized throughout the district, said Superintendent of Schools Charlene Seguin.
“We have all made the choice to live in an area where there is wildlife,” Seguin said. “Given the number of students we transport and the number of individual bus stops, we cannot assume responsibility for our bus students until they get on the bus.”
She added, “Nowhere does the policy state that we expect students to walk to and from the bus stop. That would be a parental decision.”
When asked about how the district decides which bus route portions to cancel, Seguin said that all departments review budgets and their individual operations annually in the spring to ensure they operate efficiently within established budget guidelines and policies.