A fifth kindergarten class will be opened at Beairsto Elementary School. (Morning Star file photo)

A fifth kindergarten class will be opened at Beairsto Elementary School. (Morning Star file photo)

Vernon parents defend need for all-access school buses

Beairsto Parent Advisory Committee urging school board to keep the buses rolling

Some local parents are hoping to curb potential changes to the school district’s busing system.

The Vernon School District No. 22 has long been trying to implement some cost-saving measures to the current busing schedule, which would eliminate courtesy riders. The topic of transportation is coming to a public meeting Wednesday, Sept. 30, at the district office, but there is limited access due to COVID-19 restrictions.

READ MORE: Vernon school bus meeting limited

Since a large number of Beairsto Elementary students are considered courtesy riders, the Parent Advisory Committee (PAC) wants to ensure equal access to busing for those who require it in the future. Many of the students at Beairsto do not live in the catchment area but choose to attend the French Immersion school and rely on the bus to get to and from.

“If SD22 offers education programs, they need to offer access especially in a community that does not have a viable alternative in some regions,” PAC member Karen Smith said. “As long as SD22 provides a French Immersion program, they need to provide equitable access to it or diversify access to an immersion program in schools across the district.

“This is a cost analysis they must weigh especially when some local schools lack capacity to accommodate children attending a program of choice instead of their local catchment.”

The current policy charges courtesy riders additional fees to ride the bus, but the district has been eyeing an elimination of courtesy riders altogether.

The PAC also points to reduced congestion and traffic in school parking lots and on area roads that comes from keeping buses running, plus a decrease in the carbon footprint.

“There is no sense in investing in electric busing if they simultaneously cut busing to more households thus increasing the number of vehicles on the road,” Smith said. “We all have an opportunity to teach children about sharing transportation. We all can lead by example implementing policies that consider our environmental impact. This affects the whole Vernon community by increasing car traffic and environmental pollution.”

The school board has asked parents to find solutions, as the district is struggling to fund the service.

Parents have personally lobbied ministers of environment, transport and education to collaborate on the issue so their kids can continue to have busses.

“We have suggested staggered bell times to more easily accommodate all the busing needs, we have suggested a partnership with TransLink BC to come up with some viable solutions. Ultimately, you are the decider on this issue and we beseech you on behalf of our community, our children and our children’s future to continue to provide busing in this district for all students who need it,” Smith said.

Beairsto is just one example of courtesy riders needing the service, but it is the most largely affected as the school serves a large area from Westside Road to Predator Ridge, Silver Star Mountain, Lumby and Eastside Road.

“Vernon is a small and widespread community, and we encourage you to consider this key point when you make decisions about cutting routes when they are essential to children’s access to education,” Smith said.

READ MORE: School bus cuts feared for Vernon students

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Vernon Morning Star