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School district changes controversial busing policy

Instead of taking in his first day of school, four-year-old Jaxxon Parsons joined in the protest. In Centreville, because of the 1.6-km family responsibility zone, there are currently no bus stops for students in this section of the amalgamated community.
Instead of taking in his first day of school, four-year-old Jaxxon Parsons joined in the protest. In Centreville, because of the 1.6-km family responsibility zone, there are currently no bus stops for students in this section of the amalgamated community. - Adam Randell

Centreville mounts protest on first day of school; parents and youth fight for pickup within family responsibility zone

Following pushback from communities on the first day of school, the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development announced the district will establish one courtesy stop per bus route within the 1.6-kilometre family responsibility zone.

The Newfoundland and Labrador English School District’s (NLESD) decision to enforce a rule preventing pickup within this zone, announced in May, stirred parents to action and sparked a protest at Centreville Academy the morning of Sept. 5 in which about 100 protesters held their ground for three hours and prevented buses from entering or leaving the school. Still, despite the change to the busing policy announced later the same day, some parents have their doubts.

Gregory Cutler, one of the protesters, says a single pickup isn’t sufficient for the needs of Centreville.

“One stop inside of 1.6 kilometres isn’t enough,” he said. “Where would that one stop be? Even if it was centred, in some cases it would be easier for the kids to walk to school, so it’s no real gain as far as I’m concerned.”

According to an NLESD statement, the additional stops would only be available to students who apply for and obtain courtesy seating – leftover seating after other students have been picked up – and will be implemented in mid to late September.

“It is important to note that among other considerations, the stop will have to be a safe location and along the established direct route to school,” it read. “For safety and liability reasons, only approved courtesy riders will be permitted to join the bus at this stop. If this trial proves unmanageable and generates safety concerns, the provision of a courtesy stop will be revisited.”

The additional stops will be available to approximately 25 schools, including Centreville Academy and in Norris Arm, residents of which have also spoken out against the newly enforced policy.

Karla Brown, a parent in Norris Arm, shares Cutler’s concerns about the logistics of the limited number of stops to be provided on a trial basis, but says it’s still a victory.

“They’re bending because they know it’s not feasible to do in rural Newfoundland,” she said Sept. 5. “So let’s get them to bend a bit more.”

The bus picked up students living within the 1.6-kilometre zone in the community for their first day of school. Brown said she plans to keep sending her child to that stop as long as the bus keeps picking her up, but remains frustrated with the situation.

“What was the purpose of this?” she asked. “Stop nickel and diming and creating all of this fighting.”

About 100 people turned out in Centreville-Wareham-Trinity Sept. 5 to protest a busing policy that prevents students living within 1.6 kilometres of the school from being picked up by the school bus.
About 100 people turned out in Centreville-Wareham-Trinity Sept. 5 to protest a busing policy that prevents students living within 1.6 kilometres of the school from being picked up by the school bus.

Cause for complaint

Stephen Fancy, one of the parents who protested in Centreville, lives on the cusp of the family friendly zone in Wareham. For the sake of approximately 10 feet, he said, his son Cooper doesn’t qualify for pickup.

They are applying for courtesy seating, but he is unsure if it will go through or how long it will take.

“In the winter, you’re lucky if you get one lane plowed, and they expect my son to walk through that,” he said. “The bus has to pass our house to go pick up other kids down the road.”

Parents said there had been no communication with the district before the protest, and a school board representative who had attended the scene did not address the crowd.

“We have to fight for what is right. If not, we aren’t going to change anything,” said April Waterman. “Our children are just as important as the children on that bus. All students should be able to get a ride.

-with files from Sarah Ladik

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