Safety concerns should trump school district's busing rule, says parent

A parent whose children are no longer eligible to be bused to school says the school district's rule is both a safety risk and a hit to her income.

Erika Walsh lives in Kelligrews, and last year her three children were on the list for busing to their school, Admiral's Academy in Conception Bay South. This year, however, she learned on the first day of school — via a phone call from her sixth grader — that things had changed.

"I didn't get a letter in the mail. I didn't get an email," said Walsh, who runs an after-school babysitting business in her home. 

"I got no forewarning that my three kids now are not going to have transportation to and from school, and also the kids that I take care of aren't going to be able to get on the bus."

Walsh's children are now expected to walk the nearly 1.6 kilometres to school, something she said is unacceptable to her because it would require them to first walk along their street, which is curvy and has no sidewalks, and then along the C.B.S. highway.

"I'm not comfortable with that as a parent. It's just not safe. And especially with our weather," she told The St. John's Morning Show.

The 1.6-kilometre rule

At issue is the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District's 1.6-kilometre rule for school busing. According to information on the district's website, busing is provided for students at no additional charge if they live 1.6 kilometres or more from their zoned neighbourhood school — a distance defined as the shortest route along a publicly maintained roadway, the district said in a statement.

I didn't get a letter in the mail. I didn't get an email. - Erika Walsh

Walsh believes she is outside of that 1.6-kilometre limit, and cites the fact that her children were on the list for busing last year, as well as the two previous years at their former school, St. Edwards. When her family purchased their home, she said, it was a top priority to ensure it was on the school bus route.

However, the district has told her she is 0.02 kilometres — 20 metres — too close to the school to qualify for busing. Walsh disputes that distance by her own measurements but also said safety concerns should sometimes trump the distance consideration.

This week the rule has been the subject of debate in the House of Assembly, where MHA Barry Petten brought forward a private member's resolution for debate Wednesday that asked the government to remove the 1.6-kilometre rule in cases where safety is a concern. 

The Liberals attempted to amend that resolution to ask the government to consider removing the 1.6-kilometre limit upon further investigation of the effectiveness of the courtesy stop policy. That amendment passed, though the Progressive Conservatives opposed it.

On Thursday, MHA David Brazil again brought up the rule, calling it outdated and unsafe. Education Minister Al Hawkins said he was discussing the rule with the NLESD.

Other parents share Walsh's frustration. A Facebook group, Against 1.6 Km, was started last year by Kelly Dixon, who has her own issues with the regulations. 

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"Parents are coming out right, left and centre. Everybody's frustrated how this is affecting their lives," Walsh said.

"It's affecting so many people in so many ways, not only inconvenience but really making people stress out even more and losing their income."

'Getting to school should not be a stress'

Petten has been supportive, Walsh said, and his office gave her the petitions when she visited.

"He's all on board," she said. "He's been fighting this for years."

Petten introduced a private member's motion in the House of Assembly but a message he sent to Walsh said two amendments introduced by the Liberals changed its intended outcome, she said.

Meanwhile, Walsh said she's heard that some communities are helping parents with the costs of transportation when they do not qualify for busing under the school board's policy.

"At least maybe we can all be doing that, if the 1.6 can't be changed," she said.

Walsh hopes people will get involved because the safety of children, she said, is at stake, especially during the upcoming winter.

"There's people that this doesn't affect, but I still think it's such a simple thing to support even if you don't have small kids," she said.

"Getting to school should not be a stress on parents. That should not be something else to add to our list in today's world."

With files from The St. John's Morning Show

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