School District 69 (Qualicum) will not accommodate all courtesy riders on school buses this coming school year.
Superintendent Keven Elder indicated that due to COVID-19, transportation requirements had to be revised to conform with Ministry of Education guidelines on capacity for buses.
This has become a major concern for parents, who have relied on the school bus service to transport their children to before- and after-school childcare programs.
Courtesy riders are students who live outside their catchment area school and outside the walk limits. They are allowed to use the school bus, but pay a fee of approximately $125.
Elder said prior to the COVID-19 pandemic they have been able to accommodate all who applies for courtesy passes. But this coming school year, it’s not possible as SD69 has to put place measures that will adhere to social distancing protocols.
“We are to make every effort to distance children on buses and to have children share seats with members of their immediate family or their designated learning group at school, a maximum of 60 students in elementary and 120 students in secondary,” said Elder.
“We believe that we can comply with the expectations of the health authority if we limit students to two per seat rather than three, require all students to wear masks, and create a seating plan for each bus that as possible has students sitting with members of their family or learning group. Unfortunately, with our inability to go beyond two students per seat, we reach our capacity for each of our buses with eligible riders, meaning that we expect that we will not be able to provide transportation for courtesy riders.”
One parent, who didn’t wish to have her name published, said it is going to affect many people.
“I may be able to adapt my schedule,” she explained. “I may be able to work X-amount of time in the morning to take my son to school and work X-amount of time in the afternoon to pick him up or some other hours. But what happens if you’re a nurse? You can’t leave your job. And there’s a lot of people who cannot. I feel they just kind of left us out high and dry.”
She added since schools are being brought back in session, the government should provide the associated services.
Parksville Qualicum MLA Michelle Stilwell indicated that she’s received multiple concerns from constituents.
“Where is the plan for busing?” Stilwell asked. “What are parents supposed to do?”
Minister of Education Rob Fleming indicated buses will continue to be funded but will look different under the pandemic.
Stilwell pointed out it’s already in the middle of August and weeks away from school starting. She asked why there’s still no plan in place.
“Parents are already struggling around the challenges of the pandemic and this minister continues to make the situation worse for parents and families around this province,” said Stilwell. “The school district is simply following the guidelines that was laid out by this ministry.”
The owner of Paradise Child Care Centre, Sarina Tryon, also expressed disappointment on the cancellation of the courtesy passes as it will also significantly impact their centres in Parksville, Qualicum Beach and Courtenay.
“For us it’s huge,” said Tryon. “We’re kind of sitting on the fence now because do we have staff here? Do I keep them employed? Fifty per cent of our program is our after-school care.”
Elder said the conditions may change once eligible riders have confirmed their intention to ride the buses this year.
For now, the school district is accepting applications for courtesy passes but they will be issued on a first-come, first-served basis. A waiting list will be formed and parents will be notified if or when they can purchase a courtesy pass, based on the date the application was made.