By Mark Squibb | Aug. 27, 2020
Parents and teachers who have been waiting with bated breath, really since the beginning of April’s coronavirus lockdown, for the province to release a back to school plan received that plan on Monday, August 17.
That plan has been met with some criticism.
“Myself and other representative from the school councils at Holy Cross and Immaculate Conception met with our MHA to discuss the huge concerns that parents in this town and the surrounding area have about their kids going back to school in the COVID environment,” said Holyrood councillor Kim Ghaney, who also chairs the school council at Roncalli Central High School.
And while there are concerns about cohorts and handwashing, Ghaney said the main concern is transportation.
As per the plan, the number of students permitted on a bus will be cut back to 46, from 72, with preference given to students who live further away.
“The biggest thing that we’re hearing from our little group is the busing, and their arbitrary rule of, after 46 people, you get cut off… Not taking into consideration whatsoever the socio-economic status of a parent who potentially could be number 47 or 48 on that bus line, who may not have a car, or a job, or a neighbour who could get their child to school,” Ghaney said. “So, it’s further disadvantaging some kids by having this plan for busing that they have in place. The rest of the plan is what it is. They’re going to have to change it up depending on the school environment and that kind of thing, because each school is very, very different. But when you talk about getting the children to school, it’s a huge problem. If your child is number 47 on that bus route, they’re not getting a seat. For example, I have perfect capability of getting my three children to school if I need to. But if I’m number 27, I can say, ‘That’s okay, I can put them on the bus whenever I want or take them whenever I want.’ Meanwhile, number 49 or 50, can’t. So that is a really terrible, terrible plan. The thought that went into it, I don’t even understand. It’s awful. There’s a lot of issues with the back to school plan, and a lot of fear and trepidation.”
Mayor Gary Goobie added his own thoughts.
“Since the government came out with the plan, that’s all we’ve been hearing, is buses, buses, buses, buses,” he said. He had his own ideas on how to remediate the situation.
“The deal is now that all bus companies have to have ‘X’ number of buses, I guess depending on the number of bus routes and what not, but you have to have a certain number of buses on hand, in the event that there’s a breakdown or whatever,” explained Goobie. “If they were (all) utilized, they could accommodate another 1,500 plus children. So, my suggestion is, do we need all those spare buses? Why do we need all those buses parked? Because that was the agreement that has been in the past. But now those buses are desperately needed.”
Ghaney had some ideas to fix the situation as well.
“One of the things that they’ve said is that there are not enough trained bus trainers,” she observed. “But for heavens sake, with the economy being what it is and the unemployment rate being what it is, surely they could train people to drive the bus.”
She also noted that parents who might be nervous sending their immune compromised student back to the classroom were not given the option to keep their children home and learn virtually.
Ghaney counselled that those who have concerns with aspects of the new plan need not keep quiet about them.
“I think that people in our community and the surrounding area need to be vocal,” she said. “They need to contact their school council representatives, and those names are usually on the website for the school. Or they can contact the school itself, or they can contact their MHA. Residents really need to bring their concerns forward to someone who will either speak for them or speak directly to the MHA or the department itself. People need to make sure their voices are heard. That’s basically my point. People need to reach out to their representatives, they need to reach out to their MHA, and let them now what their biggest concerns are, and that they are not going to accept this busing policy.”