School boards in this region, predominately the Upper Canada District School Board, are facing a crossroads yet again. After subjecting the region to a slew of school closures and the upheaval that ensued, now transportation changes are putting a large number of students under upheaval again.
For years, the UCDSB has bent its own rules by providing transportation to students across arbitrary boundaries. Bus routes were modified and accommodations were made. Along the way, the UCDSB, and its Catholic counterpart, the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario, were forced by the province to merge their transportation systems. That consortium, Student Transportation of Eastern Ontario, is responsibile for putting into force policies from the two boards, resulting in issues and frustrations for all involved. STEO has to implement policy, but the two boards’ transporation rules are not identical. While special accommodations cost money, sometimes, it seems boards forget that the job of a school bus is to get kids to school.
With each board having its own rules for out-of-bounds and courtesy busing, it gives one board an unfair advantage over the other. Changing or eliminating grandfathered busing can, and in many cases has, prompted students to change school boards. In those cases transportation becomes one more reason for declining rural school enrollment.
What can be done to turn this around? Communicate. Sending home a terse letter saying a child no longer has transportation is not good enough. Most of the time, open and direct communication about problems will resolve issues. School boards and parents need to be willing to compromise as well. There should only be one set of rules for transportation. Imbalanced rules tilt competition for students in one board’s favour. That’s just plain wrong. If a school board had arrangements to transport a child, it should be honoured. Work out the issue and if there is a cost involved, work that out too.
Outgoing UCDSB chair Jeff McMillan said that the role of the school board should be, first and foremost, the education of children. Parent uproar over busing, ham-fisted rule implementations and penny-pinching transportation policies get in the way of that role. Board administration and STEO should get their act together. Just let the kids go to school.