Comox Valley School District bus policy still confusing people

School District 71's new busing policy has been causing some confusion as the first day of school approaches, but the school board and staff say they working hard to try to address any concerns.

School District 71’s new busing policy has been causing some confusion as the first day of school approaches, but the school board and staff say they working hard to try to address any concerns.

In late May, the school board voted to implement new bus routes, walk limits and adjusted bell times for the 2011-12 school year, while implementing a bus registration and pass system.

All students who wish to ride the bus this year must have registered for busing.

Students who meet the eligibility requirements will be provided with a bus pass, and starting Sept. 19, bus drivers will expect all students to present a bus pass when they get on the bus.

Some courtesy seats will become available in October for those who have applied for busing and do not meet the eligibility criteria, according to the school district website.

Eric Kozak was surprised when his family received what appeared to be a standard letter saying their children were deemed ineligible for busing and would not receive bus passes.

They live in the Glacier View Secondary Centre area, and their three children will all go to Queneesh Elementary School this year.

“We were kind of surprised because our kids had taken the bus last year, and we never moved and the school hasn’t moved,” said Kozak.

Last week, the Kozaks received an e-mail saying they will receive bus passes.

“It sounds like they’re backtracking,” said Kozak. “From the tone of the letter, it sounds like they wanted to eliminate a bus. I know there are several townhouses and complexes in the area, and I know a lot of parents were using that bus to get to Queneesh.”

Secondary walk limits have been reduced from 4.8 kilometers to four kilometers for this year, while elementary walk limits have been reduced to 1.6 kilometers for kindergarten to Grade 7.

Kozak says his wife was told the walk limit is 1.6 kilometres straight-line distance. Kozak did some digging on the school district website and found in their busing policy that distances are determined by the nearest possible route. He wrote to the school board saying he wants the district to follow its own policy.

Jillian Hastings has also been concerned about the changes to the bus system this year.

The Hastings live on Headquarters Road, and their children go to Miracle Beach Elementary School. Because they don’t go to their catchment school, they are not eligible for busing, explained Hastings.

“We can get courtesy seats, but my problem is I have two kids and what if they don’t have enough seats for both of them … also, we won’t know until October if they will have any seats,” she said. “If they don’t have room for them, how do they get to school?”

Hastings has six children, and her family has been going to Miracle Beach for 13 years. They’ve always had busing.

“I was shocked to see my kids weren’t eligible,” she said. “We’ve been going to that school for 13 years — why are they not eligible now? It’s hard for me. I have young kids. That’s what they’re looking forward to, taking the bus. They’re five and seven, and it’s the excitement. The youngest have always seen the oldest take the bus, and now all of a sudden, they can’t.”

School board chair Susan Barr says it was a mistake to contact parents in the Glacier View area and say there would be no bus, and their children will be bused to Queneesh when school starts.

“I’m not exactly sure what happened, but that route did seem to be dropped in the initial plan,” she said. “When we realized it was dropped, we immediately reinstated it. That was our error. it’s been corrected, and that bus is going ahead. The plan is to contact the parents (staff) have e-mail addresses for and let them know there will be a bus running from Glacier View to Queneesh.”

The walk limits have also been a source of confusion, and Barr hopes it has been cleared up.

“There seemed to be some confusion in the board’s direction about how far a person needs to live from the school to be within the walk limits,” she said.

The school board and district senior staff met last Thursday and clarified that it is is the shortest distance by road, she explained.

As for the uncertainty around finding enough space for all children in one family to ride the bus, Barr says they will do what they can to keep families together.

“(Superintendent Sherry Elwood) told us they’re trying to keep families together on a bus,” she said. “They’re going to do their best to make this work for families.”

Barr says there are a few areas where people live outside the four-kilometre secondary school walk limits — around Highland Secondary School and on Kentwood Road in Royston — and they were told they were ineligble for busing, but this has been corrected, and they will be able to take the bus next week.

Barr says the best thing people can do if they feel they should receive consideration outside the existing policy is to phone the school board office and ask for Carol Snead or Sheila Shanahan.

“They’ve been very quick trying to get this addressed before school starts,” she said. “By and large, the public is being super patient with us, and we really appreciate that. Hopefully this will result in a bus system that’s easier to use.”

Bus schedules and information, including interactive route maps, are available at http://www.sd71.bc.ca/busing/.

writer@comoxvalleyrecord.com