Parents upset TDSB refuses to bus children to French immersion school 7 km away

Courtney Black worries every day when her son Jackson leaves their Rexdale home to travel by TTC to get to Hilltop Middle School, where he is enrolled in a Grade 6 French immersion program.

The 11-year-old, who travels with a couple of friends, has to take three different TTC buses from his home at Elmhurst Drive and Kipling Avenue to get to Hilltop, which is in the Eglinton Avenue West and Royal York Road area.

"My concern comes when they cross roads. They're small children," Black told CBC Toronto. 

"And this summer, there were a lot of pedestrians getting hit by vehicles."

Black says the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) promised parents with children enrolled in the French immersion program at Elmlea Junior School that their children would be bused to Hilltop when they graduated from Grade 5 earlier this year.

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But then, Black says, the TDSB denied their busing applications.

"Some of the parents actually received the official notification of being denied. I have yet receive that."

Black is frustrated because she says her son meets the criteria for busing outlined in the TDSB transportation policy.

Included in the policy is a distance requirement of at least 3.2 kilometres from the school, and that students be enrolled in the closest school offering French immersion.

"Our house is 6.4 kilometres, almost double their minimum requirement, and [our son] is in French Immersion," Black said.

Black says parents watch as more than 60 other students are being bused to Hilltop. They can't understand why their children are being denied.

TDSB website

"Again my question goes back to the [TDSB]. Who are these children being bused? Where are they coming from? Why are they getting busing, but my son didn't?"

The TDSB confirms 60 students from west end schools are being bused to Hilltop.

"Not only because of distance," said spokesperson Ryan Bird. "But because of the fact that there would have been available space on buses, even though they may not technically qualify.

"And in some cases where students have to make multiple transfers [on the TTC], they can be given a school bus seat, if one is available."

On the TDSB website, the board says it reviews each busing transportation application individually.

TDSB website

Black says she reached out to the TDSB transportation administrator and spoke with the area supervisor, and got an unsatisfactory answer.  

"It is our policy and has been for some time for the students [in Grade 6 and up] to be taking the TTC," she said, quoting the board's response. 

"I sent back responses requesting to see that policy in writing, because as it stands right now, their forms on their website still indicate my child would be eligible for transportation," Black said.

"We are meeting all the criteria, yet we are still being denied the transportation that we want," she said, adding that in addition to being notified by the board last June that their children would be bused, they got a similar promise from the Elmlea junior school vice principal.    

'No one is getting a straight answer'

"The school board is now denying any knowledge of this," she said.

"If the school board says there is the criteria you need to meet in order to be eligible for transportation, and we meet that criteria, we should have a bus. If the school board said in June we are going to get a bus, they should be held to that."

When CBC Toronto asked why Jackson can't be bused to Hilltop, Bird replied that the board cannot comment on individual cases. 

"There are the eligibility requirements for student transportation across the TDSB," he said.

"They have been this way for a number of years. If there concerns about the age level for which students are using transportation then that would be part of a larger conversation — a larger policy decision to change that. 

Bird says concerned parents can always appeal the board's decision.

But that's is not good enough for Black and other parents in her neighbourhood.

"No one is getting a straight answer from the board," she said.