Bus ride too long for Swift Current parents, students

After trying it out, some students and parents in Swift Current say a plan to send students on an hour-long bus ride is too tough.
Students and parents from Swift Current, along with CBC's Zach Goudie, take a trial run on next year's school bus route. 8:41

After trying it out, some students and parents say an Eastern School District plan to send students on an hour-long bus ride to school in the Clarenville area is too tough.

Long bus rides 


The Eastern School District has given CBC more examples of its long school bus routes for some children.

Winterbrook to Anthony Paddon Elementary (K-6) in Musgravetown: one hour

Burgoyne's Cove to Riverside Elementary (K-6) in Shoal Harbour: 55 minutes

Bonaventure to Bishop White School (K-12) in Port Rexton: 55 minutes

"Well, they're just physically not capable. They'll be tired, they'll be hungry, they will not be focused," said Paulette Shea, who taught kindergarten at Swift Current Elementary until she retired in 2011.

"They won't enjoy school. They'll learn to hate school, I think."

About 50 students from kindergarten to Grade 12 attend Swift Current Academy. But the Eastern School District predicts the school's enrolment will decline over the next few years.

The board recommends the school be closed and that starting in September 2013 students be bused about 65 kilometres to schools in Clarenville and Shoal Harbour.

The Swift Current Academy school council is fighting the move.

CBC rents school bus

To see what that commute would be like, CBC rented a school bus and took a group of parents and students, including Shea, from Swift Current to Clarenville on Tuesday. 

Jackson Barrington and his mother Amy try out the hour-long bus trip. (CBC )

Students and parents boarded the bus in the early morning darkness and rain. 

Amy Barrington and her son Jackson, who will start kindergarten in 2013, were among the passengers. Barrington said she also has a nine-year-old son who will have to take the bus to school.

"I wanted them to know what it would be like, what they would have to endure on a regular basis," said Barrington.

"I packed baggies in case they throw up."

Traffic, road conditions are concerns

After eight stops the bus was full, but driver Dennis Vardy said he was more concerned about the traffic in front of him than the kids behind him.

Do you know of a long school bus route in Newfoundland and Labrador? Send us the details here.

"You can't take your eyes off the road at all, you can't be looking in the mirror at the kids behind you very often," said Vardy. 

"Because you've got to be dedicated to driving. If you get some kids who are not getting along in the back, it's hard to watch them and watch traffic, too."

Due to rainy conditions Tuesday, Vardy was only able to drive 80 kilometres an hour on the Trans-Canada Highway.

But high school student C.J. Hickey said there have been times when the road conditions between Swift Current and Clarenville were much worse.

"There's times when the road's closed," said Hickey. "Sometimes my dad has had to go pick up people on the road on Ski-doo and bring them back to Swift Current. So it gets pretty bad."

Tired children

By the time the bus arrived in Clarenville, an hour after students and parents boarded in Swift Current, many kindergarten children had fallen asleep. Others were singing and bouncing off the seats in front of them.

Under the Eastern School District's proposal, students in grades nine to 12 would get off at Clarenville High School, but it would take another 15 minutes for students from kindergarten to Grade 8 to make it to class at Riverside Elementary in Shoal Harbour.

Parent Diane Barrett said the long bus ride was proof that the board's plan to close Swift Current Academy is a mistake.

"I think [the school officials are] playing God with our kids' lives. And if anything happens to one of our kids, then God better help them."

The Eastern School District will hold a public meeting tonight to discuss its plan to close Swift Current Academy.