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Point Edward parents cry foul over school board busing

Cathy Dobson Some parents in Point Edward who lost the battle to save SCITS are determined their kids won’t lose bus service to their new school as well.
Andy Cadieux waits to sign a letter to Point Edward council appealing for help in securing school busing to Northern Collegiate. Marisa Wicks, left, has posted the letter at Point Variety. Cathy Dobson

Cathy Dobson

Some parents in Point Edward who lost the battle to save SCITS are determined their kids won’t lose bus service to their new school as well.

“This is crazy,” says Marisa Wicks, whose 13-year-old daughter is set to attend Grade 9 at Northern Collegiate this fall but doesn’t qualify for busing.

Point Edward students have attended SCITS for decades and were always provided with transportation.

But with the impending closure of SCITS, the Lambton Kent District School Board has adjusted its school boundaries to send Point Edward students to Northern.

The issue, say board officials, is a long-standing policy that states students living within 3.2 kilometres of a secondary school don’t qualify for busing and must find their own transportation.

A vote by trustees is required to change the rules, said Gary Girardi, the board’s superintendent of capital planning and accommodation.

“Our transport policy is applied across the board.”

Girardi said students at many schools on the boundary edge are impacted by the policy. They can apply for a “courtesy” seat and, if they meet the criteria and there’s sufficient room, they can use the bus, he said.

Wicks was told by CLASS, the service that administers transportation for local students, that she lives 3.08 kilometres from Northern so her daughter doesn’t automatically qualify.

Wicks disputes CLASS’s measurement.

“I measured using the actual route the kids take to school and we are 3.9 kilometres away and should qualify,” she said.

“I spoke to Gary Girardi and he was concerned but said we just don’t live far enough away. There are kids seven houses from us that qualify for the bus but we don’t.”

It irks her that the Northern bus will pass her house to pick up students who did qualify.

Wicks and a number of other Point Edward families have applied for a courtesy seat. Some learned last week they’d been accepted, but they must apply every year and it isn’t guaranteed.

“This just isn’t right,” said Wicks, who is a single mom and works. “Why can’t they just have a Point Edward bus? I could end up with one sibling getting a seat and the other one having to walk. That’s a long walk.”

Point Edward Coun. Janice Robson said she intends to fight the 3.2-kilometre policy if council backs her.

“This is hogwash,” said Robson. “It just doesn’t make any sense. All children in Point Edward need to be bused no matter where they live in the village.”

Robson, who was a school trustee in the 1980s, believes a 1960s agreement between the board and village guaranteed bus service to all of Point Edward.

Greg Grimes is a village resident with cousins who live too close to qualify for a seat on the Northern bus.

He appealed to Sarnia Transit to see if a city bus could pick up in Point Edward and stop at Northern. The village pays Sarnia Transit for municipal bus service.

Sarnia already provides three “special” buses to city high schools for those who don’t qualify for school busing.

“My suggestion is to extend a regular route,” Grimes said. “Try it for a semester and, if there are no kids on it, then shut it down.”

The straightest route to Northern, Michigan Avenue, isn’t pedestrian friendly, Grimes said.

“Cars zip along at a high rate and the sidewalk is narrow, especially in the winter,” he said. “This is a safety concern.”

Grimes said Sarnia Transit has informed him options are available with the city bus route to accommodate Northern students from Point Edward.

However, he said the schedule requires changing buses a couple of times and takes considerably more time to reach Northern than a designated school bus would.

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