By Richard Bell
How would you like to have your first-grader walking to school in the snow along Highway 7 in Porters Lake?
That’s the nightmare scenario that more and more parents have been taking to Facebook to complain about. The Halifax Regional Centre for Education (HRCE) has issued a new school bus transportation app for parents’ cellphones (“BusPlanner,” Http://hrce.mybusplanner.ca) When they entered the locations of their homes, many parents whose children were happily riding school buses last year read that their kids lived too close to their schools, and were therefore ineligible to be bused: they would have to walk. (2.4 km for Grades P-6, 3.6km for Grades 7-12)
But HRCE (or the Conseil scolaire acadien provincial—CSAP) could allow students inside the boundary to ride, under a program called “courtesy bussing.”
Confusion over the draconian messages from BusPlanner eventually forced Ron Heinman, the Director of Operations for HRCE, to issue a special notice to parents on July 12. In the note, Heinman made a categorical statement: “In short, we will continue to provide the same level of bussing service as last year.” (Emphasis in the original).
But reading on, Heinman undercut his promise. If BusPlanner said your child was ineligible, then no matter what had happened last year, parents had to use BusPlanner to submit applications for courtesy bussing. And there was a hard deadline: August 3.
And despite his earlier promise, Heinman then noted that “Parents/guardians who have submitted a request by August 3, 2018 will be informed no later than August 27, 2018 whether their request for courtesy bussing has been approved. While we cannot provide any guarantees at this time, if you received courtesy bussing last year you most likely will receive it for 2018-2019.” (Emphasis in original). And not only that: “It is important to note that courtesy seating may be discontinued at any time, should an eligible student require transportation.”
Having again raised plenty of doubts, Heinman closed by telling parents not to worry too much: “If you were eligible to receive transportation in the past and BusPlanner says you are now ineligible, don’t be alarmed. Give us a call and we will work through it together.”
To make matters even worse, HRCE will not be notifying parents who submit requests for courtesy bussing until August 27 (by letter). School opens on September 5, leaving parents whose requests are denied little more than a week to come up with alternative transportation for their kids.
There are hundreds of messages on local Facebook pages from angry parents. Many parents felt that once again, the powers-that-be in downtown Halifax were clueless about the realities of life in rural HRM. There were repeated concerns about safety. As Alicia Varner wrote, “It doesn't matter if I could see the school and watch my son the whole way. Tell me what part of Porters Lake connection is safe for children to walk along, and how they are supposed to cross the road without even a crosswalk? This is why blanket policies do not work.”
Or Linda Johnson: “Unbelievable that they want the children to walk on the roads with no sidewalks with fast traffic buzzing by.”
Or Murray Douglas: “2.4km limit would probably be fine in the city, but this is the Eastern Shore, proudly sidewalk-free since forever, home of the giant truck and speeding Hondas.”