North

Whitehorse parents frustrated by cancelled school bus routes, fewer seats

Some Whitehorse parents are frustrated by a lack of school bus service this year, after the government cancelled certain routes to accommodate COVID-19 guidelines.

About 250 fewer students riding bus compared to last year

Yukon has ordered three new school busses, however they have not yet arrived. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Whitehorse parents remain frustrated by a lack of school bus service this year, after the government cancelled certain bus routes and reduced capacity to accommodate COVID-19 guidelines.

"It's been extremely frustrating not having a school bus for our children," said Mike Nemeth, who has two children at Holy Family Elementary School.

"The past nine years we've depended on this bus to get our kids to school."

Nemeth said they were told a week before school started that the usually packed bus from their Copper Ridge neighbourhood to Porter Creek was no longer running.

April Hanna said she had to cut her work hours so she can drive her 10-year-old daughter to school.

"I don't really have any choices right now," said Hanna, a single mother with three children. 

Roughly 250 fewer children can ride the school bus compared to last year, according to Deputy Education Minister Nicole Morgan.

Yukon's COVID-19 guidelines say there can only be two students per seat on the bus, so the government could not accommodate as many students. 

Morgan says all "eligible" students have a bus seat, however. Students are considered eligible for bussing if they live more than 3.2 kilometres away and go to school in their attendance area.

In previous years, the department has been able to accommodate more students who don't fit that criteria.

Fewer students can sit on each bus in the Yukon this year, in order to follow COVID-19 guidelines. (Laura Howells/CBC)

Sarah Marsh's family lives 2.8 kilometres from school, so her daughter didn't get a spot on their usual bus.

Marsh, who works during school hours, worries about her 10-year-old walking home for 45 minutes during the dark winter.

"We're trying to figure out how to deal with it and see if we can arrange rides with other families," said Marsh, whose daughter goes to Elijah Smith Elementary School. "It's difficult."

Bus routes cancelled, new busses ordered

Thad Thomas' daughter transferred to another school this summer, then found out the bus was cancelled two days before class started. He said they wouldn't have changed schools if they had known.

Nemeth said it wasn't possible to switch schools on short notice.

"When you give parents a week notice, there really isn't much option," Nemeth said. 

Morgan said bus routes were cancelled for students going to school outside their attendance area, including routes between Copper Ridge and Porter Creek, as well as between Porter Creek and Hidden Valley. 

The Department of Education has ordered three additional school busses this year, which have not arrived yet. Morgan said the department is still determining which routes the new buses will cover.

April Hanna says she had to reduce her work hours to drive her daughter to school. (Submitted by April Hanna)

Morgan said the health and safety of students is a priority.

"We recognize this has been particularly challenging for families," said Morgan.

"We do hear the concerns, we are working on a case by case basis."

The Department of Education says it is monitoring ridership numbers and will notify families if a space becomes available.

Hanna said she's bothered by a lack of government action.

"i just don't feel like they're offering any solutions or they care," said Hanna. The opposition Yukon Party brought up her situation during question period in the Legislative Assembly earlier this month.

David Dibbs, a single father, said he's been repeatedly calling the Department of Education about his child's bussing situation.

"It's been really hard trying to get any information from them," he said.

Nemeth said it doesn't make sense that children can be in close proximity when playing hockey or basketball, but not on the bus.

"These policies are quite contradictory and they're just making families' lives harder," 

David Dibbs and his children live in Whitehorse, Yukon. (Submitted by David Dibbs)

Morgan said 1,750 students have an assigned school bus seat in Yukon. She said the government has also issued 700 monthly Whitehorse transit passes to students.

McPhee has also said 150 children from kindergarten to Grade 3 were assigned a bus spot this year, even though they did not meet eligibility criteria.

She has also noted that the Yukon is facing a shortage of bus drivers, and encouraged more people to apply.

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