Surrey student with special needs in the lurch, as school bus service issues drag on

·3 min read
About 80 students with diverse needs and abilities in the Surrey School District have been affected by school bus staffing shortages, according to a district spokesperson. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
About 80 students with diverse needs and abilities in the Surrey School District have been affected by school bus staffing shortages, according to a district spokesperson. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

The father of a Grade 4 student with a rare genetic disorder and autism says his son has been forced to stay home from class some days, as staffing issues dog the company contracted to provide bus service for kids with special needs in the Surrey School District.

Wes Hodson, a geologist, says other days, his son's one-on-one educational assistant has been personally coming to get him and take him to school, while Hodson takes time off work to pick him up.

The process isn't simple, as Hodson's son, who uses a wheelchair, requires a special car seat that has a buckle which can't be unlatched mid-trip.

"The [educational assistant] and the school have gone over and above to help us and accommodate us, and we've been really appreciative of that," said Hodson on Wednesday.

But the school year has been a challenge for the family so far, beginning on the second day of class. The first-day service was expected to be provided by Student First, the company contracted to drive special needs students to and from school in the district.

Left in the lurch at the end of the school day

According to Hodson, his son was picked up and taken to school, but he was left there at the end of the day with no warning. Hodson had to go pick him up.

The next day, the same thing happened. Then service from the school bus company stopped completely.

"It was pretty unsettling the first few days when he was left at school with no communication. It doesn't give you much trust that they can keep your son safe and his well-being when he's in their care on the bus. It's disconcerting," said Hodson.

When his son is forced to stay home, which has happened three or four times, he's a handful, he says.

"He's loud and demanding," said Hodson, who works from home. "It's just very frustrating."

Staffing issues

Student First hasn't returned calls from CBC News.

The same company was involved in sudden bus route cancellations in Prince George earlier this month, after multiple drivers resigned shortly before the start of the school year.

According to a spokesperson with the Surrey School District, about 80 local students have been affected by staffing issues at the bus company. The district provides bus service itself, but service for students with diverse needs and abilities is contracted out.

"We are working closely with this contractor to better understand their challenges and we are hopeful we'll be able to resolve the issue soon," said district spokesperson Ritinder Matthew.

Matthew said some Student First services had resumed this week.

Hodson said he was told his son would be back on the school bus this week, but that has since been delayed until at least next week.

"It's just not right — just because my son has a disability or is in a wheelchair that he misses out on things he shouldn't," he said.