Regina mother frustrated by joint busing system that left daughter unaccounted for

A Regina mother has serious concerns around the safety and communication protocols of the public and Catholic school boards' joint busing initiative. 
A Regina mother has serious concerns around the safety and communication protocols of the public and Catholic school boards' joint busing initiative. Derek Putz / Global News

Ashley Timm got a phone call from the babysitter picking her daughter up from school on Wednesday.

“She contacted me saying that Ashlynn was no longer at the school and they didn’t know where she was at that point,” Timm told Global News.

READ MORE: Boy left on Saskatchewan school bus in unheated garage for 7 hours

Ashlynn Christopherson, who is six years old and in Grade 1 at Elsie Mironuck Community School, doesn’t normally take the school bus home in the afternoons, although she does ride in the mornings. Hopeful her daughter had mistakenly climbed on board, Timm called the bus company.

She remained on the line while the person who took her call proceeded to radio Ashlynn’s regular driver. She said she overheard snippets of the conversation, at the end of which the driver conveyed Ashlynn was not on the bus. The dispatcher then told her the same.

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The bus company placed Timm on hold –  she estimates for about 15 minutes.

“I became hysterical,” Timm said. “The weather last week was in the -40s. Those seconds meant everything. She could have been outside in the freezing cold.”

When the dispatcher returned, she explained the driver checked the bus and Timm’s little girl had fallen asleep in a seat at the back. The vehicle had yet to arrive at Ashlynn’s stop, so she could get off there.

The bus drivers are supposed to take attendance, Timm said, questioning whether this happened the day her daughter was unaccounted for. She noted Kindergarten and Grade 1 students are supposed to be assigned to the front seats of the vehicle.

“This never should have happened,” she said.

While Timm is grateful her daughter is safe, she is left with serious concerns around the safety and communication protocols of the public and Catholic school boards’ joint busing initiative.

“I definitely think that this is something that needs to be reviewed,” Timm said.

READ MORE: Second-year pilot project has some Regina parents concerned about late buses

Last year, Regina public and Catholic schools teamed up as part of a pilot project that would see students from Ecole St. Elizabeth and Ecole Wascana Plains picked up by the same bus. This year, the pilot project has extended to students at Ecole Elsie Mironuck and Ecole St. Mary.

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The company responsible for the bus that transports Ashlynn in the mornings (and that one time in the afternoon) is contracted through the Regina Catholic School Division.

Although Elsie Mironuck is a public school, Timm said she was advised by the bus company to take her concerns up with the Catholic board, which she did.

She described the email she received in response to her complaints as “a slap in the face.”

The email, sent to Global News by Timm, apologizes and recounts the situation that occurred, acknowledging Timm overheard the conversation between the driver and dispatch and “rightfully became upset and worried with tears of fear.” It describes how Timm then spent time “on hold alone and with the worst-case scenarios going through [her] head.”

She said she was shocked by the content of the official communication.

“It was very hard to read. I actually broke down and cried, just reliving the whole thing,” she said.

The email finished off reiterating the attendance, seating and bus check protocols, the driver did not seemingly follow in the first place.

“If anything comes out of this situation, it has to be changed. If not, I’m going to keep pushing,” Timm said.

In a follow-up statement to Global News, the Catholic school division acknowledged the email “has been discussed as it contained some information that we wouldn’t typically share with parents.”

The school division reiterated that parents with concerns should be contacting its transportation department.

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Regina Public Schools said that it is also looking into the situation, still trying to understand what happened.

Spokesperson Terry Lazarou noted that while the website does direct joint busing concerns and inquiries to the Catholic board, the public board will be reviewing the information it provides to parents about the joint busing initiative to ensure that first and foremost, they are fully equipped with what they need to know where to turn in an emergency.