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Port au Port East demonstrators skeptical about courtesy stops trial for school buses

Demonstrators who blocked buses at St. Thomas Aquinas School in Port au Port East on Monday morning are seen marching ahead of one of the buses. They include from left: Phoebe Hoskins, Sabrina Humber, Beverly Hoskins and Bernadette Benoit.
Demonstrators who blocked buses at St. Thomas Aquinas School in Port au Port East on Monday morning are seen marching ahead of one of the buses. They include from left: Phoebe Hoskins, Sabrina Humber, Beverly Hoskins and Bernadette Benoit. - Frank Gale

Demonstrators who blocked bus access to St. Thomas Aquinas School in Port au Port East on Monday morning may be back at it again.

That’s if a proposal by the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District for “courtesy stops” for the buses servicing the school is deemed irrelevant by them.

“The bus operations will again be disrupted and further protesting will take place,” according to organizer Laura Hoskins.

The protesters were met by the school district’s transportation manager Mandy Penney on site at the protest, who Hoskins said informed them of the attempt to issue the courtesy stops.

She (Hoskins) feels as though these courtesy stops will not prove sufficient, as students will once again have to be along the main highways — walking to these stops. The students have been picked up at their driveways ever since that school opened.

"If it isn't broken, don't try to fix it," Hoskins said.

She led a group of more than 20 students, parents and supporters in a peaceful protest near St. Thomas Aquinas School in Port au Port East (Kindergarten to Grade 8) blocking three buses from going to the school.

They lined up with placards at three separate entrances to the school property to carry out the disruption in a protest against the 1.6 km family responsibility zone.

While Bernadette Benoit don’t have any children or grandchildren affected by the 1.6 km rule, she said she was participating in the demonstration because it’s her belief every child should have the right to get to school safely.

“Are they (school board or government) going to wait for a child to die on his/her way to school? Children are safe on the bus,” she said.

Shannon Hoskins said about a decade ago when plans were made to change a pick-up point for students to the area of a blind hill in Port au Port East he made it clear if someone got hurt or killed the school board or bus contractors wouldn’t have enough money to pay.

“Now they’re trying to enforce this 1.6 km rule so it’s getting to the point where it’s time to protest,” he said.

Al Hawkins, Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development, issued a prepared statement late Friday that on Oct. 17 the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District and his department undertook a review regarding a courtesy stop inside the 1.6 km zone.

He said that review recently concluded and the district has planned a new courtesy stop procedure to be implemented for St. Thomas Aquinas School.

Hawkins said the current policy regarding the 1.6 km zone and courtesy seating is comparable, and in many cases, more favourable than other provinces.

“Transportation of students to and from school is a key focus and priority of the department and we work with the school district, operators and the industry to ensure it is as safe as possible,” he said.

Hoskins she said since September her group has asked the department and school board to reconsider their decision and now the change is demanded.

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