CORNWALL, Ontario – During a Q&A held on Tuesday night, May 18, parents took their concerns to the Student Transportation of Eastern Ontario (STEO) bus consortium about pending changes to start times for elementary and high school students.
Starting in the 2021-2022 academic year, high school students will be starting at 8 a.m., while elementary school students will be starting between 9:15 a.m. and 9:30 a.m.
These new bell times have been phased in across Eastern Ontario starting in 2019, with the United Counties of SD&G being the last region to be implemented.
South Glengarry Deputy Mayor Lyle Warden expressed his frustrations to Upper Canada District School Board (UCDSB) Chair John McAllister during a meeting on Monday, May 17.
“You guys at the UCDSB changed the school times at many schools across your region. Where was the consultation on that,” Warden asked. “Specifically in Iroquois and Williamstown you have high schools and public schools that run as one unit but are splitting the start times. You are going from a 9:20 start to 8 a.m. at the high school level, and many parents have kids in both schools. I just find that there was no consultation done. The decision was made, and I don’t think you guys have taken any consideration as to the impact of that. I don’t know about you, but my 13-year-old daughter does not like to get up early and instead of getting up at 7:45, she’s going to have to get up at 6:30 and it is going to be a struggle.”
During the public meeting on Tuesday evening, Janet Murray, General Manager of STEO explained that these changes were aimed at helping the consortium deal with the rising costs of providing bus service.
“Over the past couple of years, costs became unsustainable in a very short time,” Murray said. “STEO made great effort to reduce disruption of service to families . . . Bell time alignment allows for significant achievement of efficiencies without a loss of service to families.”
Parents on the called expressed concerns that in some cases, such as at Williamstown Public and Char-Lan which are across the street from one another, different bell times for high schools and elementary schools would increase the number of buses.
“During the 2016 PAR, it was explained that splitting the Char-Lan and WPS busses would add 12 additional busses at a cost of $600k. How does splitting the busses lead to a savings today,” said South Glengarry Councillor Stephanie Jaworski.
“STEO has created routes with safety and effieciently (sic) in mind to achieve the most cost savings possible acroos (sic) the whole board,” replied Marc Gosset, STEO representative.
According to Murray, the new bell times will take 20 buses off of the road in the 2021-2022 academic year.
Jaworski also explained that working parents, particularly mothers, will be negatively affected by the early start times.
“It’s recognized that moms, especially working mom’s are feeling the brunt of the effects of this pandemic. And moms will likely be the ones predominantly having to accommodate these bell times changes. Considering that these changes will result in increase child care costs (or reduction in employment earnings) to families how were these costs being downloaded to families compared to the costs savings that are anticipated from this new bussing plan,” she wrote.
STEO states that it has issued a survey to parents asking for feedback on their daycare needs that needs to be completed by June 4.
Some parents pointed out that they relied on their adolescent children to help around the farm.
“Very respectfully, will you please consider an exception for our unique situation in Williamstown? We need to continue sharing buses (rather than two buses coming to our house twice a day in Sept. to literally bring them to the exact same building shared by Char-Lan & WPS). This year kids help on the farm, older siblings provide child care, AND put them safely on one SHARED bus already. In the Williamstown case, specifically, how is the new plan better for families as you say and also less expensive,” asked parent David.
“STEO’s direction from the STEO Board of Directors was to align bell times for all secondary and all elemntary (sic) as it is discussed at this moment,” replied Gosset.
Parents also raised concerns about secondary school students getting enough sleep. UCDSB Superintendent Marsha McNair explained that the school board will be recommending that parents monitor their children’s use of electronic screens prior to bed and that high school students avoid caffeine in the afternoons.
STEO will be releasing the final bus schedule for students in Aug. 23, 2021.