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Middle Sackville mother raises concerns over lack of communication about courtesy busing

Two new school bus service providers will be operating within Nova Scotia this year. Hundreds of buses province wide are preparing to hit the road this September. Alexa MacLean/Global Halifax

A mother of two elementary school children is questioning why changes to courtesy busing weren’t clearly communicated by the Halifax Regional Centre for Education in advance of school starting in just a few short weeks.

“They should have let us know months ago, at the beginning of the summer. I was waiting like every other parent for that communication to come out over the summer about busing,” said Margaret Caldwell.

“I never received anything, not knowing that I was just completely removed from all the lists.”

Caldwell says in recent years, she’s had no issues with securing a bus seat through courtesy busing, but when she recently tried to log onto the online portal that takes care of school bus transportation for students, she could no longer access her account.

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That’s when she reached out to the Halifax Regional Centre for Education and was told that any potential courtesy busing seats won’t be determined until after Sept. 30.

“So, after Sept. 30 it’s basically going to be a free-for-all,” she said.

“Whoever will get a seat will get it and whoever can’t, won’t.”

In June, the province announced a new student transportation policy will be in place this September.

According to the education department, the policy was developed with input from more than 8,000 Nova Scotians who responded to a bus consultation survey in 2018.

A major part of the new policy includes new criteria for school bus eligibility. The distance that children have to live away from schools in order to be eligible for a bus seat has decreased.

The June release stated that families can contact their education centres to determine bus eligibility.

An interview request with the Halifax Regional Centre for Education was declined.

Read more: N.S. government terminates Halifax contract with Stock Transportation

An email statement was sent outlining how the HRCE plans to address courtesy busing concerns.

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“HRCE will allow students to access unassigned seats, once we know we can do that. The availability of any unassigned seating will not be determined until all eligible students are routed after September 30th,” the statement from Stephanie MacKinnon, a transportation communications specialist with HRCE, reads.

“Right now, families who are ineligible for busing under the new School Transportation Policy, but express an interest in this have been tracked,”

Caldwell feels that if the new student transportation policy meant families who previously had access to unassigned seats would no longer qualify, more effort should have gone into clearly communicating that.

“We can’t have kids walking 40 minutes to and from school across three major roadways, that’s not safe,” she said.

MacKinnon writes that the new policy will allow for more than 26,000 students will now be eligible for school bus transportation.

“We want to ensure new service standards are met before we begin to make unassigned seats available to others,” MacKinnon wrote.

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