BRUCE BUMSTEAD/BRANDON SUN
Robin Leslie greets her daughter Abby, 6, at the door after school on Tuesday afternoon. Abby’s parents have tried to get her a spot on a school bus, but the Brandon School Division says the family doesn’t live far enough away from Kirkcaldy Heights School to qualify.
Brandon mother Robin Leslie is at her "wit’s end."
Abby Leslie hangs up her jacket after school on Tuesday at her home in the Glendale Mobile Home Park as mom Robin Leslie looks on. (BRUCE BUMSTEAD/BRANDON SUN)
Her daughter, along with several other children who live in Glendale Mobile Home Park, attend various schools within the Brandon School Division, but some don’t have the option to ride the school bus.
Manitoba guidelines indicate that students must live 1.6 kilometres away from their school in order to qualify for a seat on a school bus. Leslie’s home is 1.3 km away from where her six-year-old daughter Abby attends Kirkcaldy Heights School.
According to Leslie, the family’s home is 1.3 km away, but that’s only if Abby cuts through residential properties to get to school. Leslie added that if Abby were to walk to school, taking the appropriate route, it would take about 45 minutes and be more than 1.6 km away.
"My six-year-old daughter is supposed to walk to school by herself, as both (her parents) are at work," Leslie wrote in an email to the Sun recently. "She would have to walk on the road as there are no sidewalks. We were told that she could take the walking path through the bush ... in many feet of snow.
"I don’t even know if she would make it through."
Leslie said she has been trying to work with the BSD over the past month on getting Abby on a bus. She said she first filed an exception to the school board’s policy, which was then transferred to the division’s facilities and transportation committee for review.
But after determining the distances involved, the board confirmed the division policy of 1.6 km was tied into provincial funding. They also noted in their meeting minutes that "the division does not receive funds from the province for bused students who live within the 1.6 km distance from their school."
Although the committee discussed the request, "it was agreed that the request for exception to policy would be denied" and senior administration was "directed to send a letter to the parent noting the committee’s decision."
In an interview with the Sun, facilities and transportation committee chair and school board trustee Doug Karnes said "we have to abide by our policy and guidelines."
At the end of the day, Karnes said, there are "only so many buses and so many seats available for students."
"You have to take into consideration the rest of the city, too. If you allow one exception, why not 500?"
He also said the division’s school buses are currently at capacity and said there are limited resources to go around. Parents filing for an exception in particular cases like this one aren’t common, he said, but admitted "it does come up once in a while."
After learning her exception was denied, Leslie said she approached her daughter’s school’s vice-principal, who forwarded information regarding her situation to Supt. Donna Michaels. But because the school board had already denied her request, Michaels couldn’t accept her paperwork, Leslie said.
"I’m at the end of the rope," Leslie said. "In the whole Glendale area, there’s lots of very young children and everybody’s having problems, it’s not just me.
"It seems we’ve tried almost everything."
Leslie told the Sun on Thursday she has since been in contact with city administrators, including her ward Coun. Jeff Fawcett (Assiniboine), with hopes they’ll be able to provide her with more answers than the school division did.
"I felt very disrespected and shot down by everything they had to say," Leslie said. "This has been a long, strung-out battle when I thought that’s what buses are for."
Despite not qualifying to get on a school bus, Abby does qualify for her school’s lunch program because she lives too far to walk home for lunch, Leslie said. Leslie also has a three-year-old son and worries how he’ll get on a school bus when the time comes. In the meantime, Leslie’s mother-in-law has been driving Abby to school.
"I’m not exactly positive on how to move forward, but I’m going to keep looking into it and attempt to," she said. "I’m hoping they’ll let her on a bus for just a term or until she is a little older and can ride her bike and have a good understanding of not talking to strangers."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 1, 2014