It was a concerning start to the new school year last week for a Sault child and his family.
Jessica Graham was expecting her five-year-old nephew, currently enrolled in senior kindergarten, to be dropped off at her home.
Family arrangements had been made for Graham to meet her nephew at the request of her sister-in-law, the boy’s mother.
The boy was dropped off at a school bus stop near what the bus driver thought to be his grandmother’s home, the young student was escorted to that home by a group of older students.
“My sister-in-law was searching for my nephew, who is five,” Graham said, speaking to SooToday.
“That led to me calling the bus company to ask them ‘what is your policy?’ He was basically taken to a stranger’s home. Thankfully, a neighbour was there and a good person (the boy was safely returned to family care).”
“The bus line told me their policy is that if a student is older than junior kindergarten they don’t need to be greeted by a parent or guardian. I had no idea of that. I thought for sure all kindergarten students (both junior and senior kindergarten) had to be met by a parent or guardian before they’d let them off the bus, and if there was no parent there, they would take them back to the school and the school would call a parent,” Graham said.
“Our family was pretty shocked.”
Graham acknowledged the child’s drop-off address information (that of her own house instead of her sister-in-law’s) had not been submitted to the Algoma District School Board (ADSB) in time.
If drop-off address information was not submitted to the board by Aug. 21, the updated information would not have been processed before Sept. 9 (five days after school started Sept. 4).
“We weren’t aware of that…(but) that drop-off policy should be changed,” Graham said.
“Your four or five year old could be left outside your locked door, in the winter. I thought ‘how do I push for a change?’ It should be an older age where children should be met by a parent. It should be all kindergarten students at the very least. My daughter is in Grade 1. It should be at least Grade 1 or Grade 2 students (greeted at school bus drop-off points by parents or guardians, or taken back to school if no one is there to greet them),” Graham said.
“The school board told me 90 per cent of bus drivers will, as a courtesy, keep the kids on the bus (and take them back to a school where they are safe).”
“The JKs are taken from door to door. It’s not a board policy, so to speak. It’s the policy of the transportation company. The practice has been that anybody over JK, the SKs and Grade 1s and 2s (are not). Most of the time the parents are meeting their children at the stop,” said Joe Santa Maria, ADSB superintendent, responding to SooToday.
“I haven’t heard of an issue like this in many years (but) sometimes an anomaly comes up,” Santa Maria said.
“The drivers have been trained by their companies that if at any point in time they feel uncomfortable about a student’s safety they keep the student on the bus and radio in about the situation,” Santa Maria said.
“Typically, junior kindergarten students are picked up and dropped off at the door by the bus so they can be met by a parent or guardian, and then from senior kindergarten on there’s no requirement to be greeted by a parent or guardian,” said Steve Fratesi, Algoma Huron-Superior Transportation Services (AHSTS) supervisor.
The Transportation Services team coordinates school bus operations for the Sault and Algoma region’s four school boards; the Algoma District School Board (ADSB), the Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board (H-SCDSB), the Conseil scolaire de district du Grand Nord de l'Ontario and the Conseil scolaire catholique du Nouvel-Ontario.
“JKs are door to door, for senior kindergarten to Grade 3 the walking requirement is 750 metres from the bus, at a congregated corner, to their homes. Grade 4 to Grade 8 is 1.5 kilometres,” said Fratesi, adding he is familiar with the event involving Graham’s nephew.
“The address he was supposed to go to was changed only the week before school started, so there was a bit of confusion there.”
Occasional issues aside, Fratesi stated “we take this job very seriously. We don’t drop off students flippantly. We try our best to make sure we’re in the right place at the right time and get the proper information to our drivers.”