EAST HANTS: The Chignecto Central Regional Centre for Education (CCRCE) is aware of the bussing situation that has parents upset and concerned.
In a response to a query from The Laker News, CCRCE spokeswoman Jennifer Rodgers said safety is a top priority for CCRCE, both within their buildings and on school buses.
“We are aware of the busing concerns within the East Hants schools over the past few days and are working quickly to resolve the issues,” she said.
“Each school year, it takes a few days for our bus drivers to get their route times and details close to what has been shared with families on our bus information system, BusPlanner, and appreciate our families’ patience during this time.”
Parent Meghan Osborne said her two kids go to Riverside Education Centre in Milford. They both came home on the first day of school on Sept. 6 on a bus full of 70 kids plus the driver.
“Looking at it from a safety concern, those kids are shoved in there like sardines with no seat belts and no safe passage to escape during an emergency,” said Osborne. “If you consider an aircraft take off and landing, you stow for safety. The reality is you’re probably more likely to have a vehicle accident, than a plane.”
She said she won’t stop voicing her concerns and wants the province to think outside the box.
“It’s sad that we are putting our kids’ safety at risk for a dollar,” she said. “I’m not just going to accept this, because it’s the norm. It’s broken. Be innovators.
“If drivers need more wages, well step up and pay them more and you then figure it out.”
Osborne provided an update later Thursday that her kids’ route was running two buses on Sept. 2, the second with a 30-minute delay. It was the same bus doing the route twice.
Rodgers said new student registrations that occur within the first few days can shift the routes, bus stop times, and put some buses overcapacity.
“Our drivers count students as they board the bus to ensure they do not exceed capacity,” she said. “If there is an overloaded bus, it is our procedure to take one load of students home first and return for the second group after to take home.
“Sometimes, especially in the first few days, students may accidentally get on the wrong bus. We ask our drivers to ensure that all students are delivered home.”
She said CCRCE’s transportation team has been working with schools to identify new students and make any necessary changes to bus runs to ensure all buses are within a comfortable ridership.
Rodgers said late on Thursday night that Motor Carrier Inspectors had checked buses the past two days and did not find any overcapacity.
“Some could be considered crowded, but not overcapacity,” she said. “Not out of the ordinary for the first few days of school as any last-minute student bus additions are figured out.”
Hants East MLA John A. MacDonald said he was told there was a bus with 70-odd students on it. He has reached out the department of education and CCRCE about this.
“We were also told there were some students that get bussed that had to walk home because of the number of students on their bus,” he said in an interview on the afternoon of Sept. 7.
He said he doesn’t recall another first day back to school such as this.
“This is the worst first day in three years of school,” he said. “Last year we had some minor bussing changes which in my view that are still not safe.”
On a separate issue not tied to the situation that has parents upset and concerned, he spoke of a letter coming out June 22 about the removal of school bus stops, he’s gone to work arguing why they need to be put back. MacDonald sent four letters to CCRCE and Gary Adams, CCRCE Regional Executive Director of Education.
“After a lot of letters and talking with Gary Adams and explaining why it need to be reset, I was at least able to get Lantz back,” he said. “However, Enfield and Elmsdale are still wondering why they are still walking. I’m not done. I’m not the decision maker. I have to lobby.
“I still have bus stops in Shubenacadie that need to come back, and I’m working on that too.”
He said the biggest issue is there is a policy that deals with school bus transportation, and its one that needed to be changed a year ago.
“It’ll be on the caucus table again as I want it open. There are a couple of clauses I have a problem with,” said MacDonald.
MacDonald took issue the decision to make students 1.6 km or closer walk to school.
“This is not HRM,” he said. “It might work in HRM, but if you’re going to put 1.6 kilometres outside of HRM you have to have balance in safety.
“You can’t tell me that it’s safe for a Grade 4 student to be walking from Poplar Drive over Hwy 2, over a new interchange that has more than 200 trucks going through it, no crosswalk guards, and no lighting, so depending on when they start walking to school or coming home, it may not be the brightest out, and if its foggy, snowy, or rainy, visibility is worse.
“My view is that policy has to have a view on safety.”
He feels it wasn’t fair notice by CCRCE to parents or nearby daycares on changing the distance where kids get picked up.
Rodgers said as the 2023-24 school year starts, CCRCE has drivers in every bus run across their region.
She said they are always looking for additional bus drivers as there are ongoing retirements and casuals needed throughout the school year.
She encouraged anyone if they know of an individual who would be interested in a job as a bus driver, they can apply online at www.ccrce.ca or call (902) 897-8900.