Refused a bus ride, Windsor mom forced to pay hundreds to get her first grader to school
'It's hard, I'm a single mom,' says Michelle Potter
Since school started, Michelle Potter has been paying about $20 a day to get her six-year-old son to and from class because she's been told for weeks that he can't ride the school bus.
Even though Potter's four-year-old daughter can get on the bus, her son, who attends the same school, has been refused since September. She says she's been told the bus only picks up kids in junior and senior kindergarten and those who have special needs. In this case, she's requested a courtesy ride, but has been told there's a long waitlist as the rides are on pause because of the pandemic.
After CBC News reached out to Student Transportation Services about this situation, general manager Gabrielle McMillan said in an email that starting Tuesday, Potter's son is approved for a courtesy ride.
But this exception comes after Potter has been requesting a ride for more than a month.
Potter says she recently sustained an injury to her legs and can't always walk the 1.1 kilometres to the school. She's also on a fixed income through the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) and can't afford to keep paying for cab rides.
"I don't see the reason why he can't go to school on the bus with his little sister," she said.
"Every day it's $20, every day, that's $100 a week. I can't afford that, I'm on ODSP and it's hard. I'm a single mom ... that could be three meals on my table. I'm taking away that from my kids."
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A courtesy ride, according to Greater Essex County District School Board (GECDSB) chair Alicia Higgison, is requested when a family is not qualified for transportation because of their proximity to the school.
But that doesn't line up with Potter's situation, as her daughter is qualified to ride the bus.
Potter says she's spoken with the bus driver who tells her there's a little more than a dozen kids scheduled for pick up. The mom of two says the large bus could easily hold more kids and keep them spaced out.
"There should be some kind of leeway to get kids on the bus, not just my own, there's other kids. People have disabilities, people have to be at work, there should be courtesy rides available," she said.
Courtesy rides on pause due to safety, short on drivers
GECDSB confirmed that courtesy rides aren't being offered at this time because of COVID-19.
While the board said Student Transportation Services makes this decision, Higgison said the lack of courtesy rides at this time is because of safety — ensuring students can stay distanced and are cohorted — and the shortage of bus drivers.
"We are seeing that we can't just add another bus to a route, we can't just add more of those things maybe as easily as we could in the past and so they have to make some tough decisions with all those competing factors, but safety being the first one," she said.
Student Transportation Services also told CBC News that courtesy rides aside, they have a waitlist of students who are eligible for the bus that they're still working through.
McMillan said in an email that the service is looking to readjust routes to meet all the needs and "once that is done, we'll consider courtesy rides."