Bruce Hedman (Left) and Emily Cederholm (right) both voiced their displeasure to Central Okanagan Board of Education trustees Wednesday about a proposal to cut school busing for their kids who attend a French immersion school in Kelowna. (Connor Trembley - Kelowna Capital News)

Families voice outrage after school district discusses eliminating bus route to Kelowna school

The bus route is 5.9 kilometres and takes students from South Kelowna to École Élémentaire Casorso Elementary School

Parents of children who attend École Élémentaire Casorso Elementary School in Kelowna are not happy about the prospect of their children losing their bus ride to school.

The parents voiced their outrage to the Central Okanagan Board of Education March 4 after trustees discussed eliminating school bus route 314, which carries children to the school from south Kelowna.

According to the district, the route carries approximately 19 kids a distance of up to 5.7 kilometres.

But Harmony Bjornason, a parent with two children at Casorso, accused district transportation officials of skewing the numbers on the route to justify its elimination.

“Ridership numbers on this route really don’t tell the whole story,” she said. “When we tried to take this bus route this year, it was impossible to get on. When I talked to someone at the (district) transportation office, they said they weren’t letting kids on the bus because they didn’t want to show demand for the route.”

Bruce Hedman, whose two great grandchildren go to the school, said he didn’t support eliminating the route because it could create a safety risk for students.

“On this route, there are no sidewalks and tons of traffic along this route for the kids,” he said. “The board is trying to cut costs for the district. But safety for these kids trying to get to school, what is that going to cost them?”

Emily Cederholm, Hedman’s granddaughter, said it’s also discriminatory that French immersion students wouldn’t be able to have reliable transportation to their school in the future .

“Why are students that choose a French immersion school in a bilingual country being punished?,” said Cederholm. “SD 23 offers, and provides, French immersion programs as a public school entity. (This is) a school that we pay our hard earned tax dollars for.

“As parents, we are being penalized for enrolling our child in a (French immersion) program.”

Despite the concerns, district secretary treasurer Ryan Stierman said it would be unfair to continue providing bus service for students on the route.

“A recent survey showed that 70 per cent of respondents indicated we should not be extending eligibility to students who attend schools other than their English catchment school. This route is one of two bus routes in the district operating outside of those mandates,” said Stierman.

“It’s an inequitable situation to be providing this special service to some parents in the district and not others.”

Under current the Central Okanagan School District’s transportation policies, students typically only qualify for bus service if they attend a school in the catchment area where they live. With a limited number of French immersion schools in the district, many students who attend them do not necessarily live in catchment area of those schools.

If the route was kept, Stierman said, the district would have to heavily subsidize each student on the bus route.

“It costs approximately $900 to transport a student. Next year, we will only be collecting $300 in bus fees. That means we’d be having a subsidy of about $600 for each student,” he said.

“The savings from the elimination of these routes will result in the district being able to provide an enhanced level of service to those students entitled to busing under our current policy.”

The district is also proposing the elimination of another busing route, Route 320 from the Upper Mission to Ecole Dorothea Walker Elementary in Kelowna, to save costs.

The board will make a final decision on whether to eliminate the bus routes at its meeting on March 25.

READ MORE: Central Okanagan school board expands whistleblower policy


@connortrembley
connor.trembley@kelownacapnews.com

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