School District 68 voted Wednesday to provide busing from the south end of Ladysmith to North Oyster Elementary School come September.
With École Davis Road Elementary closing this June, a motion was passed to put on buses for current French Immersion students there heading to North Oyster in order to continue in the program.
The bus route will contain stops at Davis Road, Ladysmith Primary and Ladysmith Intermediate, en-route to North Oyster.
“The transition work beings now,” said superintendent Dave Hutchinson at a special meeting held Feb. 19 at SD68’s headquarters in Nanaimo. “The transportation will be French Immersion students from Davis Road to North Oyster for a seven-year period. This is outside the policy so it is an exemption, however it is transitional. We’re proposing for French Immersion students only but courtesy riders will be permitted if there is space, with first priority being the siblings of French Immersion students.”
Hutchinson indicated the busing service will cost the school district around $12,000 a year.
School board chair Dot Neary along with fellow trustees Jamie Brennan, Bill Bard, Kim Howland, Sharon Welch and Bill Robinson all voted in favour of the motion. Only trustee TerryLynn Saunders was against with Donna Allen and Nancy Curley absent.
“I believe we should do this,” said Welch. “We are in danger of losing students to a different district if we don’t provide busing and I think it would be a sad day if students leave because their own district can’t provide them with the transport they need to get to their school. This is one step in the right direction and hopefully we’ll continue to make more of those steps.”
Saunders’ argument was that because Cedar Secondary students choosing to attend Ladysmith Secondary from September were not provided with buses, neither should Davis Road children going to North Oyster.
“It disturbs me that we’re giving a particular group so much more than we’ve given any of the students in Cedar,” said Saunders. “It’s as if Cedar doesn’t want the buses and there’s a whole bunch of them who want to come to Ladysmith. What’s upsetting me the most is that here we are, we’ve been told over and over again we have absolutely no money whatsoever to provide any kind of busing, and yet we’re just going to pull out the money from I don’t know where, even if it’s only $12,000 a year.
“I’m disgusted. I think it’s great for the French Immersion kids and it’s great for North Oyster and I really support that. But I hope we can then look at busing from Cedar again and find a way.”
Bard believes because of the low cost, busing from the Davis Road area to North Oyster is do-able.
“I’m a little surprised at trustee Saunders’ reaction and I’m in support of the motion because the cost is reasonable,” he said.
The busing system to North Oyster will last until June 2021 and every current French Immersion student at Davis Road is guaranteed a seat.
Incoming French Immersion Kindergarten students as of September will be classed as “courtesy riders.”
“Parents of new kids coming into the program need to know that the year their kids are in Grade 7, there won’t be any busing,” said SD68’s director of communications Donna Reimer.
Staff confirmed the calculations on seating were done based on the current 138 students currently enrolled in French Immersion at Davis Road.
Thus, with current Davis Road Grade 7s heading into Grade 8, courtesy space is available as none of those students will need transport to North Oyster from September.
“The district is relocating a district program and students enrolled in it expect to complete it,” said Neary. “We’ve made a decision to ship that program to another location so it’s fair to provide transportation to bridge that gap.
“The decision made around Cedar is that the designated school for Cedar students is John Barsby and transport will be provided through policy. I don’t see a conflict between the two.”