Miramichi man blames 'stupid' rules for shortage of school bus drivers

Norman Richardson has a licence to drive a tractor, an excavator and a tractor-trailer, but the 67-year old can't drive a school bus in New Brunswick because he didn't graduate from high school.

Norman Richardson knows many skilled drivers who could get students to school, but they don't have Grade 12

Norman Richardson says he can't drive a school bus in New Brunswick because he doesn't have his Grade 12 diploma, although he has plenty of experience. (Submitted by Norman Richardson)

Norman Richardson spends most of his days in the woods in Little Bartibog, outside of Miramichi. He has a licence to drive a tractor, an excavator and a tractor-trailer, but he can't drive a school bus in New Brunswick.

The 67-year-old recently heard about the shortage of school bus drivers in the province from his brother-in-law, former MLA Tanker Malley, who is a longtime bus driver in the Miramichi.

"He said, 'Oh, you should help us with the bus,' because he knew I drove tractor-trailer. He said you just got to go for a little course to make sure you know all the rules with the buses."

Richardson realized there was a problem when, shortly after that conversation, he ran into his cousin, who teaches the bus driver course.

We have a lot of educated people but they're not very smart.- Norman Richardson

"He said, 'What grade are you?' and I said, 'I went to Grade 9.' 'Oh,' he said, 'You've got to be Grade 12.'"

Since then, Richardson has spoken with a few other locals who were also turned down because they didn't have their Grade 12 diploma.

"I don't know who made that law," he said. "I bet they all went to university. And that's why this country is in such a turmoil now. We have a lot of educated people but they're not very smart."

Nothing to do with safety

Richardson said if you can operate a school bus safely and are comfortable transporting children, there's no reason you should be prevented from helping to get students to class.

"If it was something to do with safety, I'd say yes. But it's got nothing to do with safety."

Richardson, who has his 4th degree black belt in karate and teaches the martial art to many children in Miramichi, said he was told he doesn't qualify to be a school bus driver. (Submitted by Norman Richardson)

As a karate instructor, Richardson spends time with young people and children every week and is confident he could drive a school bus on the odd day, giving regular drivers like his brother-in-law a day off when they need it.

Earlier this week, Francophone School District South said more than 100 school buses have reported significant delays this school year because of a shortage of regular and casual drivers from Dieppe all the way to the Miramichi.

Both parents and teachers are concerned that students are missing class time because of the delays. 

In an email statement, Nancy Champion of the Department of Education confirmed that school bus drivers must have graduated from high school or have their GED.

She said they also must have "considerable experience" operating motor vehicles.

"They must possess good communication skills and have a demonstrated ability to successfully deal with discipline in the vehicle," Champion said.

'Almost like you're a second-class citizen'

Richardson grew up the eldest boy in a family of 14 children, and when he finished Grade 9, he left school to help his father in the woods.

I did all that for other people and now they criticize you because you didn't go to school. It's not because I didn't want to.- Norman Richardson

"I loved school but my father said, 'You got to help me try to put the rest of them to school, eh? And the rest of them ... they went to university."

Richardson worked with his father cutting wood and said his siblings went on to become doctors, lawyers, and engineers.

"When you get to my age, it's almost like you're a second-class citizen in New Brunswick. Because you didn't go to grade 12," he said.

He has continued to make his living as a contractor, working in the woods, and all of his children also graduated from university.

Richardson left school after Grade 9 to help his father work in the woods near Miramichi. As the eldest boy in his family of 14 children, he worked to send everyone else to university. (Submitted by Norman Richardson)

"You're kind of punished when you think about it. I did all that for other people and now they criticize you because you didn't go to school. It's not because I didn't want to."

Richardson said whoever is in charge of hiring school bus drivers in New Brunswick should take another look at the qualifications.

"I just thought it was kind of stupid. Just because you didn't go to Grade 12 that you couldn't drive a school bus. I'm not going to go back to school to try to get Grade 12 to try to be a spare bus driver — that doesn't make sense either."

About the Author

Vanessa Blanch

Reporter

Vanessa Blanch is a reporter based in Moncton. She has worked across the country for CBC for nearly 20 years. If you have story ideas to share please e-mail: vanessa.blanch@cbc.ca