FALL RIVER: Parents in the Fall River area feel the removal of school bus stops in the community is just Stock Transportation and Halifax Regional School Board (HRSB) looking at their children as nothing more than “nickels and dimes.”
The parents are frustrated with receiving a letter from their children’s schools saying effective March 19, “courtesy” bus stops their kids go to now—close to 44 in total—will be removed by Stock Transportation, and thus their kids will now need to navigate down roads with no sidewalks, a busy subdivision road and then get on a busy main thoroughfare to walk to school at Ash Lee Jefferson every day.
According to the letter from STOCK, the stops are all classified as “courtesy” — in other words, not regular stops, but provided as a courtesy because they live under the distance for busing.
“The children’s safety is not being considered, the adequacy of getting the students from Point A to Point B are not being considered and the timing is completely poor,” said Kimberly Stach, one of a handful of parents who sat down with The Laker on March 5 to discuss their concerns.
Gerard Peters said the decision to remove the bus stops that have been there for years—some even decades—is appalling. It has nothing to do with the needs of the children or the childcare providers, the parents or any other stakeholders. In his case, it’s an afternoon bus stop being removed so the excuse they are removing it because kids were being late to school doesn’t fly.
“What has to happen is we require government intervention so that Stock Transportation and HRSB can reconsider this decision,” he said. “Frankly, they need to press pause on this so that parents, children and others can find sufficient childcare options for the next school year. What they have not done is considered the needs of everyone in the process.”
He agrees there might be some stops that aren’t needed, but maybe those can be amalgamated.
“There are stops out there that are needed. They were put in place because there was a need, and those needs remain,” said Peters. “What they’ve done is they have taken one approach to eliminating all the stops without looking at the specifics of each stop.”
Peters said the removal of the stops, in his view, is strictly a financial one.
“They’re increasing the inconvenience on everyone in the system just for nickels and dimes on the other end,” he said. “We’re being nickel and dimed here at the end of the fiscal year. It makes no sense at all.”
The parents have been in touch with MLA Bill Horne and his office, who are supportive of their plight and are looking into see what they can do at their end.
“His office has been the most supportive of everybody with our concerns,” said Juurlink.
The parents found out March 1 late at night in an email, saying that the decision was made as of March 19 the bus stops would be eliminated, and that decision would not be reversed. Most of them live within the 2.4 kilometres where busing is not implemented for their kids.
Stach said she thought three stops in a kilometre of each other were what would be eliminated, not all the stops at once as is happening. She is a in home childcare provider so she advised the parents of the six to eight kids who have been coming to her for the past six years she would no longer be able to do that.
“That is impacting my small business, the parents of the kids and their jobs as now they will have to pick up their kids,” she said.
Shelly Juurlink said the decision was made mid-way through the school year and children will suffer. It may even mean that her or her husband will have to quit their job so one can drive their child to school and be there to pick them up in the afternoon.
“People are going to have to quit their jobs,” she said. “We can’t afford to live in Fall River on one income. So we’re going to have to leave.
“We’re hollowing out this province one spoonful and one stupid decision at a time. We’re talking out one end of mouths of immigration, economic development, and out of the other side we’re taking away bus stops, taking away health-care, and dentists.”
Stach can’t imagine the board and Stock feeling at ease having the kids—as young as five and six—walking to and from school.
“Two of the kids I pick up at the bus stop are almost asleep when I get them off the school bus because they’re exhausted from the long day at school,” she said.
The kids will have to cross the roads without a crossing guard or any crosswalks.
“The traffic goes by at high speeds,” said Peters. “There’s a real safety issue here that has been lost in this decision.”
Juurlink said there is nothing safe and reliable about the decision.
“If my five-year-old child gets hit because Stock won’t pick them up and HRSB won’t pay them to pick them up, who’s responsible for my child’s death?” asked Juurlink. “That’s what I want to know.”
They plan to be vocal until their demands are met.
“We’re not going to stop until it changes,” said Juurlink. “We’re not going to be silenced. We’re going to be the squeakiest wheels you’ve ever heard.”
The letter to the parents indicates that in addition to the courtesy bus stops being removed, new buses are being added to the Lockview family of schools which will create additional bus routes for Ash Lee Jefferson.
According to the letter many busing students in the HRSB have been arriving late to class since the beginning of the school year. This resulted in HRSB developing a plan with Stock to adjust some bus routes. The changes affect more than 20 schools.
HRSB’s website states that “courtesy seating can be discontinued at any time.”
Provincial legislation indicates school boards are responsible for providing transportation for students who live 3.6 kilometres or more from school. Those who live closer than 3.6 kilometres are eligible to receive courtesy busing, based on availability.
Another letter was issued on March 5 as well, this one to parents of students at Waverley Memorial School among others about route changes coming there.