A few readers have suggested through our Sound Off feature that the Brandon School Division made a mistake last Monday by granting bus transportation to a six-year-old whose home falls outside the division’s busing policy guidelines.
The board policy is tied to Manitoba guidelines indicating that students must live 1.6 kilometres away from their school to qualify for a seat on a school bus.
Robin Leslie and her daughter Abby — who attends Kirkcaldy Heights School — live in the Glendale Mobile Home Park.
Leslie told the Sun that her home is 1.3 km away, but only if Abby cuts through residential properties to get to school. If the young girl were to walk to school, taking the appropriate route, it would take about 45 minutes and be more than 1.6 km away.
For months, Leslie had been trying to work with division officials to find a seat on a bus for her daughter. She first filed for 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, it was confirmed that the division policy of 1.6 km was tied to provincial funding. As the division does not receive funds from the province for bused students who live within 1.6 km from their school, ultimately, the committee denied Leslie’s request for an exception to the policy.
In fact, Leslie was told “no” several times.
Some weeks ago, board trustee Doug Karnes — who’s also the facilities and transportation committee chair — said the division could not make an exception in Abby’s case. The division’s school buses were at capacity, he said, adding there were limited resources to go around.
“You have to take into consideration the rest of the city, too. If you allow one exception, why not 500?” he told the Sun.
Nevertheless, trustees voted unanimously last Monday to find a seat for Abby on a school bus. The bus has begun picking up Abby at an office near their home, making the situation much easier for the Leslie family. Until now, Leslie had been relying on her mother-in-law to drive Abby to school as her job hours made it difficult to do herself.
Certainly the guidelines exist for a good reason. There are limited resources for any school division, and for those students who find themselves in close proximity to their school, it only makes sense for them to walk or have a parent drop them off.
Keep in mind, though, these are guidelines, not hard and fast rules. Division officials should perhaps be more open to a few exceptions — that 1.6-km circle can have a few bumps in it. And obviously that little extra loop for the bus wasn’t as onerous for the division as first believed.
“I feel like the world’s been lifted off my shoulders,” Leslie said following the meeting. “It’s a lot of stress to go through.”
We believe the division trustees made the right choice in this case. And it’s too bad that it took so much effort on Leslie’s part to get to this point.
But with that said, parents of children who are approaching school age should take note of where they live in relation to their child’s future school, especially if they are moving to a new neighbourhood.
Whether you want your child on a bus, or you have the time to drop them off yourself — these are considerations that every parent needs to keep in mind as their child’s school days approach. And location plays a big part in that decision.
Otherwise you might find yourselves in similarly difficult circumstances.