British Columbia

Middle school students left behind by Gulf Islands water taxi service

Galiano Island parents want reliable transportation for students who transfer to a larger middle school on Salt Spring Island. They say the larger school provides better resources for students.

Galiano Island mother wants her son to have access to better resources for his learning disability

Keltie Miles says the local school on Galiano Island doesn't have enough resources to support her son's learning disability (Keltie Miles)

A mother from Galiano Island wants her school district to fix transportation problems for Gulf Island students. 

Keltie Miles says her son Caleb has learning disabilities and needs more assistance than the small local school can provide. The school board approved his transfer to Salt Spring Middle School this year.

"We have this tiny school on Galiano, and there are no extra resources for kids with learning disabilities," said Miles.

Although the district approved Caleb's transfer, there isn't enough space for him and a handful of other students on the water taxi that serves as a school bus.

The water taxi is primarily for students at Gulf Islands Secondary, which is the only high school in the district.

Middle school students are offered courtesy transportation if seats are available, but students enrolled in French immersion or an outdoor education program get priority. 

Miles says the programs weren't options for her son and that means her family has to look at another way to ensure her son gets to school. 

Her husband and son are camping on Salt Spring Island this week until they find a permanent solution. 

Miles feels strongly that her son needs the additional support for his learning disabilities available at the bigger school on Salt Spring.

"That is where my son has to go, and I want him to have transportation from Galiano, not to have to move half of my family over to Salt Spring for half the time in order for him to just go to school," she said.

She says she wants the district to contract another boat for students left behind.  

More than half of tenants on Salt Spring Island struggle to afford rent, Census data shows. (Keltie Miles)

Lisa Halstead , the superintendent of the Gulf Island School District, says it is still possible the capacity of the water taxi will change. 

"Quite often at the start of the school year, enrolment kind of settles in different ways than we anticipate by where people have registered their students," said Halstead. "Things could look much different in a week than they do right now." 

Heiko Decosas transferred his son to Salt Spring Island Middle School for the athletic program.

He agrees the capacity of the water taxi could change but doesn't think that's a good thing. 

"At the same time, two high school kids could move into the district and bump two more [middle school students] and it could go the other way," said Decosas.

He says they were warned this could happen but were assured that it was unlikely. Decosas is unhappy the district didn't notify them until the Thursday afternoon before the Labour Day long weekend. 

'We just simply don't have that in the budget' 

Gulf Islands School Board vice chair May McKenzie says the board is aware of the situation but it will be up to the parents to make alternate arrangements. 

She says running water taxis for students costs about $800,000 a year and expanding capacity is not possible. 

"We just simply don't have that in the budget," said May. 

The board is currently in the process of revising some of the district's policies and procedures and that could change who gets priority seating on the water taxi. 

"What the existing policy does not do, it does not give the superintendent that flexibility in terms of kids with more diverse needs," she said. 

Halstead says financial support for families who want to board their children on Salt Spring is available. 

Miles says it would still not be enough to cover costs for her family.

Decosas says his family is considering a move from Galiano Island to Salt Spring Island to solve the problem.