A petition asking the Central Okanagan School District (SD23) to provide bus transportation for all students is gaining steam online.
The petition, started by West Kelowna mother Nicole Day, details the issues families in West Kelowna, Westbank and Peachland face when it comes to school bus transportation for their children.
Day has two children who both go to Mount Boucherie Secondary School and a third child who goes to Mar Jok Elementary. Despite living in the same house, Day says only her younger teen was approved for bus transportation while her older teen was not, forcing them to walk to school.
Within 72 hours of officially launching on Oct. 4, the petition gained 1,000 signatures, with more parents signing it and voicing their support for it. She said she may have only been dealing with the issue for a couple of years but through the petition, she found out that other parents have been dealing with it for many years.
“Parents I’ve been talking to said (the school district) has been dealing with this for 25 years,” she said.
“I’m starting to think it’s just a problem that’s never been solved.”
Day’s petition is proposing that walking distances be made shorter and that every student is provided with bus transportation to and from school, instead of having one child approved while the other isn’t despite being from the same home.
“In a Zoom meeting at the beginning of the school year, they told us the budget they’ve allotted for bus transportation and that they’re not obligated to provide bus transportation to make sure the kids make it to school,” she said.
“But school and school transportation should be essential services, right?
“During that meeting, they told us we could privately charter their buses and drivers… that alone shows me that they have the drivers and the buses, but they don’t want to pay. They don’t want to put the money there.”
Moyra Baxter, the chairperson for the SD23 board of education, said the district and the board are aware of the petition, as well as the reasons for it.
She said the school district is doing the best it can with the limited funding it has, and for a service that they are not obligated to provide to students.
“I understand why parents want this and how they feel but it’s something we need to budget for and we’re putting in an awful lot more than what we’re receiving from the government and the fees we collect for bussing,” she said.
“Believe me, as school districts, we’ve been advocating for a long time. We know how important transportation is.”
She said given the limited amount of funding from the provincial government as well as the limited amount of funds they collect through bus fees, the question is: what is the school district going to cut out of its budget to provide student transportation?
“What do parents want to do without in order to get there? This has been going on for decades and it’s not a new issue, but we’re doing the best we can,” Baxter said.
“We’ve amalgamated routes, we’ve limited walking distances… I’ve spoken to the select committee on the budget from the province recently, and spoke about the importance of transportation for students. We cannot be having all these cars driving to and from schools. It’s more sensible to have children on buses, so I hope they provide money for those buses.
“But right now, it’s not as simple as ‘We’ll do what you want.’ We’re putting in a lot of extra money and routes into this, but we just can’t put every student on buses.”
If you would like to sign the petition, you can do so through this link.