Gore Bay resident says he will continue to lobby for school busing changes

GORE BAY—A Gore Bay resident says he will not give up his fight to get the Sudbury Student Services Consortium (SSSC) to change its policy concerning not busing students in Grade 4 and over to school who live within 1.6 kilometres of school.

“I’ll march in front of the school…whatever it takes. This is all about my daughter’s safety and the other kids in Gore Bay and the kids around the Island who aren’t able to take a bus to school any more,” stated Ian Oliver after speaking at a hearing with representatives of the Sudbury Student Services Consortium and the four school boards (including the Rainbow District School Board), that the former provides busing services for. “No one nine years of age should have to walk that far to school.”

Mr. Oliver and his wife Jessica Labelle have two children: Eve, who is nine-years-old and Tegan, who is seven, and the family live on Thorburn Street in Gore Bay. While Tegan is picked up on the school bus on Thorburn Street every day for school, Eve, a Grade 4 student, has to walk to school and back at the end of the day.

This is due to a policy in place through the Rainbow District School Board (RDSB) and its transportation service deliverer, SSSC. Under section 2.4 of the policy it is stated the minimum walking distance for elementary schools to qualify for bus transportation are: Kindergarten students (all are bused); Grades 1 to 3 students who live beyond a distance of 1.0 kilometres from the school they have to attend; and Grade 4 to 8 students who live beyond a distance of 1.6 kilometres from the school they have to attend. And for students enrolled in a secondary school who live beyond a distance of 2.5 kilometres from the school they have to attend-qualify for transportation.

In a previous edition of the Recorder, Renee Boucher, executive director of the SSSC said, “what happens is that the SSSC needs to enforce policies set by local school boards for school busing. For students in Grade 1 to 3, if they live a distance beyond one kilometre from their school they are transported to school. But for those students in Grades 4-8 this changes to 1.6 kilometres. It is from Grade 3 to 4 that there is a difference from one kilometre to 1.6 kilometres. That’s the policy we are enforcing.”

“I understand when a parent says the bus is here anyway, and there is room on the bus for their child,” said Ms. Boucher, “this occurs many times during the school year, but we have to be consistent with our policies. I completely understand parents concerns, but we need to be consistent and follow the policies set by all four school boards we provide transportation services for.”

Ms. Boucher pointed out, “the four boards, (including the RDSB) establish the policy for all the boards. And if you look throughout Ontario at other school boards, the average distance we have in place (to provide student bussing) is lower than other boards.”

“I asked them (SSSC) when they came to look at this corner, what time of day it was and Ms. Boucher said the inspection took place in the afternoon,” said Mr. Oliver. “But there is no justice by doing this in the afternoon. It’s in the morning when the traffic is the heaviest with people going to work, the court house and to school. It’s the morning when you want to inspect this corner and the whole route these kids have to walk.”

“A kid nine-years-old is too young to have to walk 1.6 kilometres, especially when there are no stop signs, cross walks-crossing guards, not even any lines on the roads to warn drivers that kids are walking to school,” stated Mr. Oliver. “I also mentioned we didn’t know the students were being kicked off the bus until the start of the school year. It seems like this was a last minute decision and not enough thought was put into it.”

Mr. Oliver noted, “I made my presentation at the hearings and we’ll see what happens. They did thank me for providing my information and that they would send a letter to me in the mail on their decision. But I’m pretty sure I know what is going to happen there as there are strict guidelines they have to follow and that they will revisit the issue in the winter. I also mentioned that I understand that they want to save money, but allowing kids on the bus until they are 12 would be a better age to start having kids having to walk to school. Let’s face it—when kids are nine their minds tend to wander, they are not always paying attention,” continued Mr. Oliver. I’m pretty sure I already know what the answer is going to be, that there are strict guidelines the SSSC has to follow and that they will revisit the issue in the winter with an inspection.”

“I’ll wait for the letter and see what it says, and then I will start a petition and ask other parents to sign it,” said Mr. Oliver.

“I’ll wait to receive the letter (from SSSC) and then I will start a petition and I will go back to the OPP (Ontario Provincial Police) on getting their support on the fact that this is a safety issue,” Mr. Oliver told the Recorder. “I want to clarify what was mentioned in the previous article in the paper on this issue. When I first approached one of the local OPP officers about my concerns he said that it may be a little premature to get the police involved at that time. He thought I should first approach the board and SSSC and our MPP on the issue, and if all else fails then go back to the OPP and ask them to look into this and the safety concerns I have. The OPP officer I talked to previously said they would be willing to help but they first wanted me to go to the board on this issue. Now that I have the answers from the SSSC and the board I will go back to them. This is about my daughter and other school children’s safety.”