DOVER, N.L. – Safety was the foremost concern brought forward by Dover parents about the planned enforcement of no student pickup within a 1.6 km radius of William Mercer Academy.
Inside this area is considered a family responsibility zone, and students aren’t eligible to be picked up by a school bus.
Approximately 12 parents meet with the Fogo – Cape Freels MHA Derrick Bragg, May 10, to discuss busing issues.
Lori Rogers, spokesperson for the group, said the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District (NLESD) rule has been in place for some time. But come September, the district will be cracking down on enforcement.
William Mercer Academy is a K-9 school, according to its NLESD profile. It serves 190 students from Hare Bay and Dover.
The parents state approximately seven pickup areas will be eliminated as a result, even though drivers will have to pass them by to pick up students outside of the established radius. They say it will affect more than 30 students.
Dover doesn’t have sidewalks and Rogers said there is barely a road shoulder to walk on. The main road, where the school is built, sees heavy transport truck usage in accessing the town’s fish plant.
Furthermore, Rogers said, there are concerns with the school not having a drop and load zone, and how students are to get home during a snow storm.
“A lot of people think we are upset because the kids have to walk or that we have to drive them ourselves, but this comes down to safety,” Rogers said. “People argue that students walked to school in the past, but there’s more people driving and there are more vehicles on the road than ever.
“Times have changed, you can’t compare this to walking to school 40 years ago.”
While he has only recently heard the concerns, Bragg said Dover parents aren’t alone.
Two other communities within his riding – Carmanville and Centerville – have also raised the issue.
One possible solution, Bragg offered, was to request courtesy seating – allowing students within the family responsibility zone to use the bus service as seating space permits.
How courtesy seating is structured Bragg couldn’t say, which is why he is working to co-ordinate a meeting with NLESD representatives and the concerned parents to explore the possible options.
“I don’t know where this is going to go until after we talk with (the school district),” he said. “If we don’t get any satisfaction from the district, I’ll go back to the Minister of Education to see what his interpretation of all this is.”
Aligning the province
Terry Hall, assistant director of education for the NLESD, is responsible for finance and student transportation. He said the eligibility zone has been in place for years, and that the Department of Education only provides funding for pickup outside of the 1.6 km radius.
“At some point, you have to pick a distance where students who live within a radius can get to school in a comfortable manner,” Hall said.
But he did acknowledge there have been inconsistencies with the application of the rule. Hall attributed this to the 2013 consolidation of the province’s four school districts into what is now one governing body for English-speaking schools.
“There have been different migrations of the school district… down to the current one we have,” he said. “We have been working on ensuring we get consistency, with respect to the provision of this service, so it’s fair for everyone across the district, no matter where they go to school.”
By doing this, he said, it allows the district to minimize the amount of time students spend on buses.
“When you start adding too many stops or getting inefficient routes, students end up on a bus for longer than they should,” he said.
As a result, the NLESD has reminded all schools in the central region of the policy in anticipation for September.
On the provincial level, a list of schools to be affected as a result is still in the works, however, Hall said 20 to 25 different schools could have some sort of an impact.
But there is some wiggle room for the pickup of students living within the family responsibility zone.
As Bragg suggested, Hall noted courtesy seating.
“Once all eligible riders are confirmed, people can certainly apply for courtesy seating,” he said.
However, courtesy seat students have to access the nearest stop within the bus eligible zone – outside of the 1.6 km radius.
The NLESD’S transportation policies can be found at: nlesd.ca/schools/busing/index.jsp
The NLESD courtesy seating protocol can be found at: nlesd.ca/schools/busing/doc/courtesy_seating_protocol.pdf