NEWFOUNDLAND AND LABRADOR
A large group of chanting parents halted traffic from entering Sacred Heart Academy in Marystown during morning drop off at the school on Monday, Sept. 10.
Parents of students who fall within the 1.6 kilometre parent responsibility zone under the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District (NLESD) School Transportation Policies, as well as their supports held a protest near the entrance of the road entering the school zone to show their concerns for the safety of children who are no longer eligible for busing under the policy.
Under section 1(a) of the busing policy it states that funding will be provided to the school board to cover the cost to a School Board for the transportation to and from the zoned, neighbourhood school of pupils who reside 1.6 kilometres or greater from that school. The distance to a school is defined as the shortest route by a publicly maintained roadway from the driveway of the student’s residence to the nearest accessible access to the zoned school property.
Protest organizer Starr Smith told The Southern Gazette that under the policy her children are not eligible for busing, explaining that the shortest distance from her home to the school would have her children crossing an area of privately-owned land, as well as a busy intersection.
“If I actually travel the road to get my children to school without taking a shortcut, without going across parking lots, stopping at multiple traffic lights to get here — I am 1.62 kilometres from the school,” she explained. “They (NLESD) believe it’s how the bird flies. I’m sorry but I don’t have wings and neither do my children.”
Smith said many of the buses that were pulling up to the school on Monday morning were not at capacity seating.
“They actually came through that my children used to take — there’s approximately 12 empty seats on that bus and multiple other seats only had one child in it,” she noted.
Smith said the issue goes beyond the parents and students in the 1.6 km zone.
“It’s affected everybody in our community,” she said. “You’ll see the bus drivers here, they’re wearing safety vests, you’ll see personnel from the school wearing safety vests and there’s nothing put in place for our children. We have one crosswalk over here to my right and we have one crosswalk to my left at the end of the school,” she said. “There’s not even a crosswalk at the back of the school which they want people to cross (from) the arena parking lot to have access to the school. Where does safety (be)come involved? It certainly isn’t here.”
Smith had requested that a representative from the school district be present during the morning protest to speak with parents but she was told no one from the board would be attending. She was able to speak privately with Cindy Pope, director of schools for the central region.
“I spoke with Ms. Pope — she used to be our school principal and now she’s with the district. I am having a meeting this evening,” she explained.
Smith will be joined in the meeting by Deputy Mayor Gary Myles, as well as Darrell Jackman, executive director of the Smallwood Crescent Community Centre.
“They have programs in our community that help children, things like homework haven,” Smith said. “(This) really affects their programing because the bus used to be able to drop off in front of the community centre, now all those children that are most vulnerable, they are out of the loop for this, they can’t get busing either.”
Another parent with children attending the school in Marystown said the change in busing has put her in a unique situation.
“I’ve got two primary (aged) children and one’s supposed to take the special needs bus and I’m supposed to drive the other one, or let her walk,” said Barbara Stapleton. “She’s too young to walk alone, and if I’ve got to be at a bus stop to put him on a bus, the bus comes 40 minutes, or half an hour before I can bring her to school — so I would have to go out to a bus stop, go back in the house, then drive her to school.”
Stapleton also noted that in the evening she would not be able to pick her child up from school and be at the bus stop to wait for her son, noting that both she and her husband work, so many days the responsibility of picking up her children falls on her mother.
Stapleton feels the busing change is putting children at the school at unnecessary risk during after school pick up as well.
“This place was a mad house,” she said. “It’s dangerous for one thing, and overwhelming.”
She explained that because of the increase in vehicle traffic, and number of people outside the school it made it difficult for parents to pick up their children.
“The kids are supposed to be waiting inside for their rides — you’re supposed to be buzz in through the front door. That was completely impossible because out here was just full of people, so there were kids waiting all out in this area,” she said, pointing to the outside grounds of the school. “In the event the kids have all flooded this area at the front of the school, so you can hardly get in and then it’s hard to find your children.”
She continued, “…it is not safe because those kids cannot wait inside and get their parents buzzed in, anyone could come up and take a kid and you would never know…it’s not safe.”