French school board needs more buses to cut students' long commutes
‘We've been working on finding a solution for at least a couple of years’
Officials with P.E.I.'s French Language School Board say they hope the province will invest in more buses for the students going to Island French schools.
Gilles Benoit, chair of the board, says some students are travelling upwards of three hours a day to get to and from school.
He estimates the school board needs five or six more buses in order to cut travel time.
"Since our numbers increased, the bus route has also increased," he said.
"It was a problem before COVID, but it certainly got worse with the number of students we can put on buses since."
More buses or funding for taxis
Benoit said conversations with the Department of Education on this issue have been ongoing.
"We are exchanging letters and emails and we also presented this situation to the premier," he said.
"We're also looking at a taxi to try to drive students, those that are farther from the school, maybe use a taxi to bring them closer to the schools so that they can take the bus."
P.E.I. has six French schools — five with students from kindergarten to Grade 12 and École Saint-Augustin in Rustico that runs from grades 1 to 6.
This means many students have to travel to access their school, especially if they live in a rural place.
Benoit said there are several "hot spots" that he would like to see addressed first, like students in Borden who have to bus to Summerside.
"We've been working on finding a solution for at least a couple of years," Benoit said.
"We have proposed some scenarios to go to the Department of Education. It always comes to finances."
The chair said he hopes to see a decision made in the coming weeks.
Officials with the Department of Education said they agree that the time spent on the bus is not ideal. They said they have been discussing solutions with the French board, and hope to have a resolution to address the issues soon.
Some of the ideas being worked on, officials said, include adding more buses through the COVID contingency fund (one bus was added at the beginning of this year to address issues) and looking at short-term taxi or ride-booking apps as part of a solution.
The Public Schools Branch and French Language School Board are also working together to find ways to solve the most urgent transportation cases.
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With files from Angela Walker