Parents demand Peachland, Westside students need a seat on school bus

Parents advocate for change to Central Okanagan School District mandate

A group of West Kelowna and Peachland parents want increased access to school bus transportation for their kids. (File photo)

A group of West Kelowna and Peachland parents are advocating for the Central Okanagan School District to change the current school busing mandate to accommodate all students in their communities.

Parents representing 67 students sent a letter to the Central Okanagan Board of Education complaining about how unfair the denial of transportation is for their kids who fall outside the existing busing distance guidelines.

In the letter, the parents state other students likely face similar transportation challenges, raising safety concerns about walking across busy local area traffic intersections and roads.

“Based on 2019 ICBC statistics for West Kelowna, Mount Boucherie Road, Hudson Drive and Highway 97 had 252 incidents,” stated the letter.

“Bartley and Highway 97 had 178 incidents. That said, this demonstration safety concerns for students expected to walk to school. How can the school district uphold their mandate if they deny students safe transportation?”

The letter further stated the current school busing policy doesn’t take into account the lack of sidewalks, poor lighting, snow plowing, homeless camps, pot shops, wildlife and safety concerns on the Westside that place students at risk making their way to and from school.

“We recognize that funding issues have limited the accessibility of transportation for students; however, funding issues should not affect student’s saety and their ability to secure appropriate transportation.”

The current bus policy being criticized by the parent group is the end result of a consultative process carried out by the school district during the 2019-20 school year.

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The community engagement included over 3,500 survey responses from two surveys and five public consultation sessions.

It resulted in a bus route distance critera policy for students in English catchment schools – outside of three kilometres for elementary schools, four kilometres for middle schools and 4.8 kilometres for secondary schools.

Leftover bus seats not required for eligible students are provided courtesy to students who live closer than the eligibility distance based on several priorities: first provided to elementary and middle school students; furthest home to school distance; if distance is same, then based on grade level; and if distance and grade level are the same, application date and timestamp.

Students who attend a program or school of choice are not eligible for the bus service.

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West Kelowna school trustee Chantelle Desrosiers said the current school bus policy is a compromise between the school board’s commitment to provide transportation to students, a commitment not shared by the ministry of education, and the fiscal realities of the school district budget.

Desrosiers said the ministry provides a flat $600,000 contribution to the cost of the Central Okanagan school busing program, which amounted to $4.7 million last year, which breaks down to about $1,000 per transported student.

Besides the ministry funding allotment, costs are also off-set by about $987,000 collected in transportation fees, with the remaining cost taken from school district operating dollars which fund other services such as classroom supports and programs.

She said providing bus transportation to every student simply isn’t financially feasible under the current provincial school funding formula.

“We operate 68 buses now and we would have to purchase about 306 new buses at $120,000 each to meet that demand,” Desrosiers said.

While the issue was addressed at the Sept. 1 planning and facilities meeting, Desrosiers said she expects a signed petition to be submitted to the board of education in the near future on this issue.

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