By Cole Parkinson
With the Alberta Education reviewing transportation in regard to schools, Horizon School board is preparing to make some changes to their policies.
During a May board meeting, they had a chance to discuss what could potentially come down the pipe and how they could change their policies to reflect the changes made.
“Transportation has been a big one. As you know the province is reviewing the transportation regulation and reviewing everything from what the criteria are for busing, to the distance and what the parameters are. We’ve had conversations with school councils, with administrators, certainly with yourselves as well,” said Wilco Tymensen, superintendent of schools.
While the board is now well aware that some of their policies will need to be updated, the process for updates around transportation have been in discussion for a number of years.
The changing of government from a Conservative led government to an NDP has also slowed things down but now with the NDP having several years under their belt, talks have once again picked up.
“We started the transportation review about five years ago with a number of open houses but it was put on hold because the government was updating the School Act. There was a change in government so it was put on hold as well and there were further changes made in the fall. Now the government is conducting feedback on changes to the regulation,” continued Tymensen. “My assumption is that if those changes come to be, that will happen this fall and at that point we probably need to review our policy and make sure it is in-line with the provincial changes.”
Expectations that updates will be brought forward this fall, the board will be making changes shortly after.
Tymensen expects they would look at October or November as the likely times to review their policies around transportation.
One of the biggest issues stemming from the discussions have been around busing distances set in the School Act.
Right now, when a student lives 2.4 kilometre or closer to their school, buses aren’t available to them and it’s the parent’s responsibility to get their child to and from the school.
There has been some push back to this portion from parents but Tymensen says that parents have to be aware of the transportation eligibility.
“Certainly there is conversations around the 2.4 kilometres. Right now, when a parent lives less than 2.4 kilometres from their designated school, it’s their responsibility to get their child to school. You often hear parents say ‘that it is a ridiculous distance for my little one to walk’, no one is saying it is walking distance. It’s actually a parent responsibility distance,” said Tymensen. “If the parent feels it is too far for their children to walk, it would be their responsibility to drive their child.”
Alberta Education states that the transportation eligibility is set at 2.4 kilometres because “this distance criteria has been long-established in the School Act, as well as through the former Student Transportation Regulation and the newly established School Transportation Regulation. This criteria is used to determine whether a board is responsible for providing transportation for the student or whether it is the parents’ responsibility. For students who are less than 2.4 kilometres, parents are responsible for determining how to get their child(ren) to school” and “the government recognizes that this criteria is the subject of much public debate. Moving forward, the government will engage stakeholders in discussions regarding the suitability of this distance criteria.”
Another issue brought forward to the board was around student safety concerns when they are making their way to their designated school.
“Right now there is no requirements in the regulation around safety concerns and safety concerns could be crossing a busy train track, on the highway, walking down a country road. None of those provisions are in the regulation. There is no ability right now to charge fees, that’s all controlled through the province and certainly there are some jurisdictions that have historically done that but given the changes in ministerial direction around school fees, we cannot change or alter any in regard to that piece,” said Tymensen.
Moving forward, Alberta Education is giving parents an opportunity to give feedback and make suggestions on what they would like to see in regard to distance criteria, mandated service levels and what safety considerations should be included.
“The survey does inquire about if parents want to pay for services, should that be an option that could be available,” added Tymensen.
Parents can access the transportation survey from the Alberta Education website at education.alberta.ca/student-transportation.