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Parents pressure school board to rescind decision on bus run

School District #51 busses en route in Grand Forks; Photo, Mona Mattei

Angry parents from the Mt. Baldy area forced the school district to reconsider its decision to cancel a segment of a school bus run serving their children. The group of 10 parents traveled over 3 hours to attend the district’s Board of Trustees meeting on Dec. 8 in Grand Forks to pressure the board to reverse its November decision to cancel the segment of the bus route from Highway #3 up to Alden Road – the road leading to Mt. Baldy from the Boundary region side.

While the board was attentive, they reiterated that there were several safety concerns about the road conditions and maintenance which forced them to make the initial decision.

Parents Sharen Gibbs and Angie Meissner affected by the bus route change made impassioned pleas to the board appealing to them to consider first and foremost the needs of the students – their children. Both parents said that the change has taken a toll on their children and is forcing people in the area to consider taking their children to school in Osoyoos because of the lack of access to the bus. Gibbs said that not only will the children suffer from the change in the bus route, but the possibility of downgrading the road which could reduce snow removal and potentially impact families, businesses, and Mt. Baldy ski resort.

“Public schools and school bus systems are an integral part of our community, which connects us,” said Gibbs. “We rely on them not only to educate our children, but to bring parents and children together for the betterment of our neighbourhoods and families. People living in a rural community such as ours require communication in order to manage our lives in an organized manner. I feel that a lack of communication was the problem with the closing of the Baldy bus run.”

Trustees and staff explained that their decision was based on a safety review of the road after an incident last spring. The board’s operations manager reviewed the road; staff and board met with Emcon Services Inc. (contractor responsible for road maintenance) and the Ministry of Transportation to discuss road conditions and maintenance; and staff talked with the Insurance Corporation of B.C. before the November board meeting. As a result of the information gathered through this process, the board made the decision to change the route. Michael Strukoff, school superintendent, said that the investigations they have made do not give any clear direction for the board regarding safety issues.

“We have had conversations with school protections, ICBC, and in the end none of these people will advise you with a direction. Emcon and highways people just reiterated the contracts, policies and standards. Their position is that the standards are not going to change with that highway. They will not give advice that will make any of your decisions about determining whether it’s safe for a school bus to be there or not,” said Strukoff.

Gibbs said that there has been a great deal of misinformation between the board, Emcon, the ministry and parents in the area. She said that the confusion and anger has pitted members of the community against each other.

“We feel there’s been a lot of finger pointing,” said Gibbs, “between the ministry, Emcon and the board, driver, and operations. It’s basically a hot potato.”

Gibbs is disappointed with the communication from the board to date. She emailed to all the trustees on Nov, 19 proposing a solution to the alleged problem on the route but did not receive a single response from the board. She called for the board to host a community meeting to hear from the parents, a communication process that she said should have occurred before the route was changed.

“If the bus isn’t reinstated in either it’s previous routing or in the suggested format as put forth in our email, we, the parents in the area, are asking that you approve an open meeting with community members present,” said Gibbs. “People in this area truly believe this bus route to be safe and feel that there maybe underlying reasons for this closure. And don’t worry, in the meantime, the parents will keep trying to explain to their six and seven-year-olds why their bus stops keep getting changed around!”

Trustee Kris Sabourin moved that the board put a notice to rescind the motion to change the Mt. Baldy bus route on the agenda for their meeting in January, and went on to make another motion to host a community meeting. A notice to rescind a motion must be made in advance of their meeting in order to reconsider a motion at the board level. Both motions were passed.

A meeting of the board with parents will be held on Jan. 11, 2010 at 6:30 p.m. in the West Boundary, location to be announced. Staff and board will provide a brief of information at the meeting on Jan. 11 after further details are gathered. The next board of trustees meeting will be on Jan. 12 at the Boundary Learning Centre. While parents are disappointed that the meeting will not be an open forum, they will have an opportunity to talk to the board.

Angie Meissner lives at the end of the bus route with her three children. Her emotional words sum up the situation. “I understand you have a great responsibility. What I’m asking you to do is to step up – step up to this and challenge people and fight for our kids. The biggest concern for us is the snow removal. I live three kilometers up the road (from the bus stop). My husband works in the oilfield and is away all winter. I make it down to the bus stop. I know first hand what’s going to happen to us (if the bus doesn’t continue). It scares us – we know what it’s like to drive the road (without snow removal). With the bus coming up it provides us with a service that we depend on. I’m asking you to please leave our route.”