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Education minister responds to Compass columnist’s work

Dale Kirby.
Dale Kirby.

I am writing in response to a recent column, ‘Let’s ensure the safety of our future,’ published by The Compass on Oct. 20 that focused on school transportation.

Providing a safe, reliable school transportation system is, and always will be, a priority for our government. That is why it is so important that I provide clarification for parents and your readers on the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development’s school transportation policies.

During Budget 2016, no changes were made to any of the school transportation policies. In fact, the 1.6 kilometres policy is not a new policy as it can be traced back as far as the 1970’s and may even date back to the beginning of school busing in the province. As it stands, the 1.6 kilometres criterion in Newfoundland and Labrador is comparable to the other provinces in Canada. Where space permits, there may be availability of a courtesy seat; this is administered through the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District.

SEE RELATED:

‘Let’s ensure the safety of our future’

In addition, the department also has an Alternate Transportation Policy which clearly outlines that there are potentially alternate transportation services “available to students who for medical/exceptional reasons are unable to use regular school transportation, or who reside within 1.6 kilometres from the school and have a medical/exceptional reason preventing them from walking to school, and to Kindergarten to Grade 6 students who reside within 1.6 kilometres of school whose parent/guardian cannot accompany their child to school due to a physical disability.” I certainly encourage parents to check with school administrators regarding the application process for alternate transportation.

Providing a safe, reliable school transportation system is, and always will be, a priority for our government. That is why it is so important that I provide clarification for parents and your readers on the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development’s school transportation policies.

During Budget 2016, no changes were made to any of the school transportation policies. In fact, the 1.6 kilometres policy is not a new policy as it can be traced back as far as the 1970’s and may even date back to the beginning of school busing in the province. As it stands, the 1.6 kilometres criterion in Newfoundland and Labrador is comparable to the other provinces in Canada. Where space permits, there may be availability of a courtesy seat; this is administered through the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District.

SEE RELATED:

‘Let’s ensure the safety of our future’

In addition, the department also has an Alternate Transportation Policy which clearly outlines that there are potentially alternate transportation services “available to students who for medical/exceptional reasons are unable to use regular school transportation, or who reside within 1.6 kilometres from the school and have a medical/exceptional reason preventing them from walking to school, and to Kindergarten to Grade 6 students who reside within 1.6 kilometres of school whose parent/guardian cannot accompany their child to school due to a physical disability.” I certainly encourage parents to check with school administrators regarding the application process for alternate transportation.

For those interested in viewing any of the department’s school transportation policies, they can visit the department’s website at http://www.ed.gov.nl.ca/edu/k12/busing/legislation.html.

It is also worth noting that any reductions in the number of school buses are a result of regular reviews of expiring busing contracts by the school districts to assess the requirements of the local area. Sometimes more school buses may be required, sometimes less. Many school bus contracts are for five years with a five-year renewal option.

The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador spends more than $62 million annually to ensure that students are safely transported to and from school, with approximately 70 per cent of the province’s children accommodated by student transportation before considering courtesy seating.

— Dale Kirby, MHA for Mount Scio, is the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development

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