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Concerned over bus policy

Dear Editor,
I am a concerned parent and community member who is strongly opposed the Rainy River District School Board transportation policy. My issues with the board and this policy are ongoing and I am writing to provide an update of the status of the policy and to urge district parents and citizens to support the bid to change the current policy.
In the fall, the school board began to enforce a policy that denies requests for alternative transportation that remain unobtrusive to the regular bus route and schedule. Under the current system, child(ren) cannot debus at alternative existing stops on their regular route or on an alternate route (where space is available) with parental permission. The current policy has caused tremendous issues for separated parents, parents who work irregular hours or on call, working parents who rely on child care before and after school, parents who occasionally are unable to be at home at the time of bus arrival and students who rely on bus transportation for part time jobs or after school activities.
Parents have understandably been upset about this policy and have worked hard to bring change via meetings with the transportation committee, presentations to the board and a petition. The school board has now proposed a new policy that states that space permitting and barring any route extension, students will be permitted to be picked up and/or dropped off at an alternative address. The transportation department is requesting two weeks notice of the address change, however they have indicated that requests will be accepted with a minimum of three days notice. While this is progress in the right direction, there are issues with the amounts of time given as required for alternate address requests. There is quite a difference between 2 weeks and three days and I feel that there should only be one time given. Furthermore, I believe that 3 days is too long and that alternative address requests should be able to be made right up until the dismissal of students on the day of the needed alternative address. In our day of virtually instantaneous communication, information regarding changes of address for students can very quickly be transferred from the school to the transportation department and as a result the transportation department would be aware of the address change before the buses even leave the school yard.
The new policy also outlines more guidelines for emergency situations. First and foremost I believe that the school board should be respecting individual’s right to privacy and the nature of any emergency that is called in should not have to be revealed. If a parent or caregiver has an emergency they should be able to call the school and arrange alternate transportation with no questions asked. There is no indication of this in the new proposed policy. The policy states that “emergency” implies death or serious illness to a student’s immediate family. This is quite problematic for many parents, including myself, who have their children getting off the bus at a residence that does not belong to an immediate family member. If the primary after school caregiver or a member of their family has an emergency and the caregiver is not available to meet the bus, then parents need to be able to call in for emergency transportation even though the emergency did not involve the student’s immediate family.
This policy also states that “emergency” does not include situations where a parent must work later than expected or gets called into work unexpectedly, or when a parent cannot get home in time for the bus. These are legitimate concerns for many parents. However, if time limits on when a request for alternative transportation can be submitted persist, situations such as this would not be covered under the regular policy or under the emergency policy. This would leave parents with no options with how to get their children safely received from the school bus. The transportation department needs to realize that in such situations it is not as simple as asking someone to meet the bus at the child’s regular bus stop. Often parents do not know someone who is capable of doing this. Furthermore, many times this favour would be asked of someone who also has children of their own that they need to be home for when the bus arrives. The simplest, most efficient and safest option is to just allow parents to call the school and give permission for their child to be dropped off at an alternate location.
Overall, the proposed new policy is better than the current transportation policy. I believe that there is still room for improvement. Time restraints should not be placed on requests for alternate transportation. Parents should be able to call and give permission for alternate transportation for their child at any time. For example, parents do not know three days ahead of time when their car will break down on their way home, or that the doctor they are waiting to see is 2 hours behind or their afterschool caregiver has the flu. Additionally, emergency requests need to respect the privacy of the parties involved. No one should be asked to reveal the nature of their emergency in order to have transportation arranged for their child. If the school board must strictly define “emergency” it must broaden its proposed definition. Finally, transportation requests should be handled at the school level with the ultimate decision being at the discretion of the principal. Principals are educated professionals who are more than capable of handling these issues. A more comprehensive transportation policy would remove time limits, widen the scope of what “emergency” encompasses, not violate a family’s right to privacy and be controlled at the school level.
The Rainy River District School Board has now voted to release this proposed policy for stakeholder consultation. I have been informed by the school board’s administration that stakeholders include board trustees, board administration, school councils, principals, school staff, special education advisory committee, teaching federations/unions and parents. These stakeholders will have opportunity to provide their input into the formulation of a new transportation policy. All stakeholder input into the new policy must be received by the board by March 25, 2011.
I am urging all district residents to contact their respective board trustees to give their opinion on the policy and to provide their ideas for what the policy should look like. Everyone is encouraged to voice their opinion so that our trustees are armed with the information that will best serve their constituents. Parents with children in secondary school, please encourage your children to contact the school board’s student trustee to give student input into the policy. Trustee contact information can be found on the Rainy River District School Board website.
Additionally, it is recommended that all concerned parents and students contact their principal and their school council to voice their concerns and what it is they would like to see in a transportation policy. School councils will then provide direct feedback to the board regarding the policy. If you do not know your school’s chairperson, please provide feedback directly to the school to pass along to the school council. It is important that all school councils provide feedback to the board that best represents the needs of each particular school community. Parental and student involvement is critical for this to occur.
I am also encouraging all teachers and principals (some of whom are also parents) to contact their federations/unions to provide their input on this policy. Please provide them with as much information as possible so that they can use this to give the most appropriate feedback possible. They need your opinions to provide stakeholder consultation input that best represents their members concerns.
Please pledge your support in our drive to change the Rainy River District School Board Transportation policy.Let’s use our voices and our strength in numbers to persuade the board to do what is best for our children, our schools and our communities. I think it is time that the Rainy River District School Board stepped up and did something good for the people and district they were elected to serve.
Jackie McCormick