By J.W. Schnarr
It could be called the biggest transportation move by Horizon School Division in recent memory.
Families of students in the Horizon School Division will have an opportunity to look at the draft of a new transportation policy which could have far reaching impacts on hundreds of students in the area.
During their regular meeting on Jan. 20, Horizon School Board discussed the upcoming planned transportation open house at Central School on Feb. 2. The event will take place at 6 p.m., and all are welcome to attend.
School Superintendent Wilco Tymensen said it is important to note this is a draft version of the policy, and there is still a lot of work to be done before it even comes before first reading. A policy needs three readings to come into effect.
“My understanding of the transportation policy is where we feel we have come to a point where we have a preliminary draft that was shared with schools,” he said.
“The policy has not gone out for first reading. Our intent was to hold an open house at which point its the boards desire to collect further feedback.”
Tymensen said the format of the evening is designed to have a more relaxed, informal feel to it. Attendees will be encouraged to ask questions and learn about the suggested changes face-to-face, rather than sitting through a presentation.
“The format is really informal,” he said.
“Parents can drop in, have a face-to-face conversation with a trustee, or have an opportunity to ask questions, leave comments, and we’ll make sure we provide an opportunity to leave an electronic comment.”
Following the event, work will continue on the policy with the information collected being added to the draft.
“We will bring all of that feedback with a preliminary draft in February, and it’s our intent to take that draft to first reading,” said Tymensen. “If anything changes, it will go back out for further public consultation.”
According to a memo released by board chair Marie Logan, Taber was chosen for the open house because the parents of students in the area are deemed to be the most impacted given the number of students who live within 2.4 kilometres of the school who are receiving busing (327 of the 357 students receiving transportation within 2.4 km are within Grassy Lake, Taber, and Barnwell), or attending non-designated schools (460 of the 516 students attending non-designated schools are within Grassy Lake, Taber, and Barnwell).
“It does impact a large number of students, I think there is 1,582 students we bus, I think a third of them are attending the wrong school, (their parents are deciding to have their children attend a different school),” said Tymensen. “About 380 or so of those students are being bussed, even though they are under 2.4 kilometres.”
Proposed policy changes could include:
Students who live less than 2.4 kilometres from their designated school would need to purchase an annual bus pass for their students, under certain conditions. Buses could no longer cross attendance boundaries to transport students to non-designated schools.
Parents who wish to have their students attend a non-designated school and who are seeking transportation could be required to transport their children to a designated school bus stop within the attendance area of the school they wish their child to attend, and to purchase a non-designated bus pass.
Tymensen said the provincial government funds busing for students more than 2.5 kilometres from their designated schools, but there are limits to how much help a parent with an out-of-area student can expect to receive with transportation.
“Alberta Education provides funding for transportation when students are over 2.4 kilometres, and they are attending their designated schools,’ he said. “The School Act and Education Act provide the opportunity for parents to attend any school of their choice, but when they choose to attend a school that’s not their designated school there are responsibilities that fall on their parents laps.
“If they are seeking transportation to a non-designated school or a school based on less than 2.4km, there will be a bus pass they will have to acquire.”
Additionally, Tymensen explained the boundaries for some schools could change depending on which grade the student attends. He said at W.R. Myers, for example, the boundary for Grade 9 students is essentially the Taber town limits, but beginning in Grade 10 students who live in Barnwell are considered to be within the designated area, as Barnwell School only has students to Grade 9.
“So W.R. Myers has a double boundary,” he said.
“Vauxhall High School would be another example of that.”
Logan said while the big changes could cause some concern among parents, it is important for them to not these are proposed changes only, as the policy has not even passed a first reading yet.
“I think it’s very important that we get out to our administrators and school councils that they know it’s in draft form. said Board Chair Marie Logan. “It’s very important, I think.”
“It’s so important that people understand this is just a draft,” said Logan.
Logan’s memo made it clear that the board is intending to work collaboratively with parents to expand educational programming within its schools so that parents don’t feel the need to register their children in non-designated schools.