Report to the Minister of Education:
Parent Concerns and Suggested Action
Regarding the CBE’s 2015/16 Transportation Plan
Prepared by the Calgary Association of Parents & School Councils, September 2015. For privacy reasons, some portions have been edited from the original report supplied to the Minister.
OVERVIEW & SUGGESTED ACTION
Over the past few months, the Calgary Association of Parents and School Councils (CAPSC) executive have heard substantial concern from parents about the CBE’s recent changes to transportation.
As we believe the current model continues to pose a significant threat to the safety of children, we ask that Alberta Education move to remedy this situation in the following ways:
- Immediately move to protect children’s safety by restoring reasonable walk limits;
- Initiate true public consultation on the CBE’s transportation strategy, and;
- Complete an independent financial and procedural review.
CAPSC’s history with school traffic safety
- In 2013, Sam Livingston’s school council recognized that traffic safety was a city and province-wide issue. Together with CAPSC, a team of parents organized a key stakeholder meeting to open the conversation on this subject.
- Stakeholders at the meeting included provincial, municipal, school board, transportation and police representatives, a substantial number of parents and school council representatives, and interested community groups. (See 2013 School Traffic Safety Meeting summary for details.)
- The focus was on understanding the challenges in place and bringing forward positive collaboration and suggestions.
- As a direct result of this first meeting, stakeholders realized that the safety of children in traffic is a growing concern. Both provincial and municipal legislation was changed, and public awareness campaigns continued. Traffic safety continues to be a key focus for many Calgary stakeholders. (See newspaper articles on pedestrian accidents in Calgary.)
- Knowing that councils needed simple strategies for calming traffic, the Sam Livingston team joined CAPSC to create school traffic safety tips and a website. Members of the Calgary Police Service reviewed the materials to ensure they were both safe and legal. This supplements the work of other organizations seeking to improve traffic in schools.
Facts about children in school traffic
- Developmental limitations – Until around age 8, it is hard for children to tell whether a vehicle is moving, and to judge speed and distance. Children believe vehicles can stop instantly, and cannot anticipate how they will move or whether there is enough time to cross safely.
- Travelling before dawn – Children in Calgary begin walking to catch buses shortly after 7 a.m. On December 21st, sunrise does not occur until 8:21 a.m. This means children walk to the stops in darkness and winter conditions for a large portion of the school year.
- Traffic jams at schools – Councils report considerable safety concerns caused by drivers during school drop-off and pick-up.
- Loss of safety patrol – The CBE’s move toward middle schools (Grades 5 through 9) means that the safety patrol program in place since 1938 is gradually being eliminated at a time when traffic around schools is growing. Safety patrols generally consist of children in Grade 5 and above. Current Alberta law does not allow teachers or staff to perform the same function.
Serious issues with congregated stops
- Trial run – Congregated stops have been gradually introduced for students in alternate programs for some time. However, questions exist as to whether there was an actual study of how this system affected families, or whether feedback that the CBE did receive was considered before further implementation.
- A previous attempt at increased fees for alternate programs – A few years ago, the CBE attempted to raise fees for alternate program students using feedback from the same generic type of survey. While parents in alternate programs may have been willing to pay a small amount more, they balked when the actual plan revealed that fees were significantly higher than those for students in the regular program.
Part of the rationale behind establishing alternate programs was to encourage parents in highly populated areas to bus their children to emptier, centrally located schools. As well, transporting children to an alternate program is not necessarily more expensive. (For instance, children may live closer to their alternate school than to one offering the regular program.) Many factors come into play. After receiving a considerable amount of negative feedback, the CBE decided to charge an equal amount for transportation across the system.
- 2015/16 school year – walk distance to stops changed across the board – The CBE based the May 2015 decision to extend congregated bus stop walk limits to 1.6 – 2.5 km because that is the distance children walk to schools. The flaw in this plan is that while schools remain in one place, buses are often early or late, and occasionally do not show up at all. If a bus does not appear, children may wait at a stop for considerable time before being required to walk the same distance home.
One parent researched what this means for children: 1.6 km equals about 10 city blocks, 5 transit bus stops, or a 23-minute walk according to Google Maps. As buses are on dual routes and may not show up, keeping walk limits to 800 metres (as the Calgary Catholic School District does) makes sense, as students may have to double back to return home.
- Longer walks, longer drives – The CBE marketed the congregated stop system by saying that congregated stops would reduce routes and ride times. However, some students are faced with both a longer walk and increased ride time on busier streets. It is not possible to know how many of these routes exist without full analysis of the transportation structure. For this reason, transparency and public consultation are required.
- Another effort to place a higher burden on alternate program students – Despite the feedback from the unsuccessful attempt at increasing fees for these programs several years ago, it appears that a unilateral decision to provide less service to students in alternate programs has been made.
- Lack of consultation – Though CBE Transportation knew for some time that the system would require adjustments, parents only received a general warning in the spring that the system would be moving to congregated stops. No details on how this change would affect families were provided to those who requested more information. Families discovered days before school began that their stops had been moved or eliminated. The abrupt change continues to place enormous stress on parental budgets and employment.
Introduction of Calgary Transit for middle and junior high students
- The CBE’s September 15 board meeting report outlines administration’s plan to increase use of Calgary Transit for middle and junior high school students. (See page 4-12 of the September CBE trustee meeting materials for confirmation.) Other school boards do expect students in Grade 7 and up to access public transit. However, as the CBE’s middle schools include students in Grades 5 and 6, children as young as nine could potentially be using Calgary buses and the C-train. Since Grade 5 and 6 students must be supervised by an adult while in the CBE’s care, their families would continue to pay a noon supervision fee ($275 – 285) as well as Calgary Transit fees ($650). The CBE has also removed transit subsidies.
Silencing parent voice
- A year ago, CBE trustees removed CAPSC as a recognized stakeholder. No consultation with schools or parents took place before this decision was made.
- Since then, CAPSC’s membership has continued to grow. We hear repeatedly from parents frustrated by the complicated maze parents must navigate to access the trustees and higher levels of CBE’s administration. Concerns of parents and councils do not seem to move past the individual school level. Many who know the system well and cooperate with the guidelines feel that parent concerns are not heard or addressed in a meaningful way. (See this parent letter for an example of one experience in attempting to communicate with the CBE regarding transportation services.)
- The response to our petition (1266 signatures in 17 days) and number of letters transmitted via our stakeholder contact form suggests that parents value CAPSC’s work in this area. (See this summary of parent concerns from the petition and the petition itself for a list of responses to date.)
In the same way that the CBE’s decision to move Grade 5 students from the elementary schools affected the safety patrol program, the effects of this change to congregated stops also echo. Multiple stakeholders have not been consulted about how the change might impact them.
Effect on Children and Families
- The safety of young children is put at risk the further they walk, especially during winter months. Many stops are currently located in busy intersections, as those locations are easier and faster for bus drivers to access.
- If families do not have the luxury of walking or driving their children, young kids will walk alone.
- Drop-off and pickup locations changed drastically. Childcare and work schedule are affected. Families need months, not days, to plan for this sort of change.
- Students have been abruptly moved to public transit, with parents shouldering the additional cost.
- The lack of notice means that family budgets, stress levels, and parent employment have all been put at risk by the way this was managed. The lower families are on the socio-economic scale, the more this strategy will affect them.
Effect on Schools, Communities and the City of Calgary
- More parents will choose or be forced to drive their children, increasing already considerable traffic through neighbourhoods and at schools themselves.
- As previously mentioned, the school safety patrol system that has been in place for decades is gradually being removed from elementary schools. The elimination of patrols and increase in parents dropping off kids creates a double whammy to safety at schools.
- Already overloaded community schools will have to absorb extra students at the last minute, as families realize transporting children to the programs they enrolled in is no longer possible.
Effect on Environment and Infrastructure
- An effective school bus system makes environmental and economic sense. Multiple cars driving to multiple schools, with the attendant pressures on families, school zones and city infrastructure, makes no sense at all.
- Although the CBE’s decision-making process solves budgetary and demographic problems for the school board, established safety measures and services for students are steadily being eroded, and families are paying more for less service.
Minister Eggen, we hope that you have the information you require to take action to protect Calgary students now.
- Immediately move to protect children’s safety by restoring reasonable walk limits and ride distances – Children in Calgary cannot wait until the next school year for the effects of the congregated stop decision to be reversed. They need immediate action before winter conditions arrive.
- Initiate true public consultation on the CBE’s transportation strategy – the same multiple stakeholder consultation that was proved effective two years ago is needed now. Parents, as the voice of the children in the system, are a primary stakeholder.
- Complete an independent financial and procedural review – Parents have little trust that tax dollars are being used effectively. They also require more information on how the CBE is managing the transportation system. For instance, transportation experts in aviation and emergency health services depend on historical data and route planning software to accurately plan services. Is the CBE doing the same?
Thanks for giving full consideration to this matter.