Tuesday, April 27, 2010  
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Quote of the Week
“We are still not satisfied. We don’t feel we’ve been treated fairly.”
- Marilyn Rees  
- on plans at the MDM   
   
Research indicates school division may not offer enough options
 
Several parents of school-aged children in the Pass continue to seek changes in the recently-altered school bussing policies of the Livingstone Range School Division, and have aimed a well-researched salvo at the notion that bussing in the Pass is now just like anywhere else.
The school division altered its bussing policy for the 2009-2010 school year, no longer bussing students within 2.4 km of their school and only picking up and dropping off children at their homes. The school board cited financial difficulties as the main reason behind these changes –– the division only receives provincial transportation funding for students further than 2.4 km from their school.
During the current school year, parents of students within that distance had the option of purchasing a bus pass for their children. That option is being removed for the upcoming 2010-2011 school year.
Concerned parents looked into bussing policies throughout the province to see how the local division's policy compares to those found elsewhere in Alberta, by interviewing 40 other Alberta school divisions. They presented their findings to the Livingstone Range school board on April 13, requesting a review of the transportation policy based on their findings. The school board indicated that they would review the presentation and the request at their April 27 planning meeting and then respond to the parent group.
On Friday, April 16, the group invited local media to view their presentation as well. Kari Mertz, Kim Lewis, Leah McNeil, and Lisa Larson presented the results of their research into student transportation.
"We feel their policies are not consistent with the community's needs," said McNeil. She said that they feel the school division's bussing policy severely limits parents' options, and is not consistent with practices elsewhere in Alberta.
The group identified several issues that they felt should be considered when looking at bussing in the Pass. They pointed out that the Crowsnest Pass is considered a special municipality, one of three in Alberta, and that the other two have special bussing policies.
The group contends that the bussing schedule is not compatible with parental work schedules. They pointed out that there are no after-school care programs within the school for younger children here, and that the busses will not drop students off elsewhere unless it is on the same bus route they would normally take.
They said that several parents have to choose between their jobs and being at home so their young children don't have to be alone at home after school. They said that there are not enough other options available to every parent, as neighbours are often elderly or seasonal residents, taxi service is not broad enough, private bussing is not available, and older children to babysit get out at the same time and can't be dropped off with the child if they are on an alternate route.
 
The parents said that wildlife and bad weather were also concerns, especially for young children walking long distances in Coleman. They presented statistics from Fish and Wildlife showing multiple sightings of bears, moose, coyotes, and cougars in the community.
They contended that even with the underpass of Highway 3 near Horace Allen School, there are still traffic safety issues. Sidewalks often aren't plowed in the winter, they said, while a parent volunteer, with assistance from the bylaw officer, measured vehicle speeds on the highway beside Horace Allen as high as 85 km per hour between 3:30 and 4:30 p.m.
According to Safe Kids Canada, they said, children typically don't acquire several important traffic safety skills until they are 9 to 11 years old. Students at Horace Allen School are typically 5 to 8 years old. The railway through the community presented similar safety concerns, they said.
In the winter, the parents noted, children walking to school in temperatures below -25 Celsius can suffer from frostbite, as exposed skin can start to freeze at that temperature. Blowing snow can decrease visibility for vehicles driving on slippery roads as well, they said.
The parents, when interviewing other school divisions, asked seven main questions.
Of the 40 school divisions interviewed, said McNeil, Livingstone Range was the only one who answered no to all of the following items.
Only seven percent of the divisions questioned said that they did not either bus students with 2.4 km or offer a bus pass, according to the group's research. Only 14 percent said that they would not drop a child off at an alternative bus stop or route. Only five percent of communities surveyed said that there were no after school care programs available, and only five percent of the divisions said that they do not allow transportation to alternative caregivers in joint custody situations. The Pass fit into the no section on all of these matters.
McNeil said that they recognize that the days of busses taking students to sports and after-school programs are over, but that they want the division to work with parents to provide more options. She said that parents are willing to pay for a bus pass within the 2.4 km, which would offset the cost to the division.
She added that she hopes the division will also offer more than one drop-off or pick-up location for families with joint custody situations, at the least. She said that it would also be a great help if parents could designate where their one pick-up and drop-off location would be, rather than have it automatically be at home. That would allow parents to have children dropped off at a grandparent's or at some other place where they would be taken care of if both parents are working.
The group will also be presenting their concerns and findings to council on April 27, at the governance and priorities committee meeting.
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