If families come first, then prove it

First published:
September 12, 2001

So many times we hear from politicians that families come first. The story of Brenda Reyns and her two children demonstrates clearly how an institution like the school board, two local trustees and an employer care little for children and their families.

Ms. Reyns was left scrambling to arrange for transportation for her two daughters – Olivia, 7 and Ashley, 4 – in order for her to keep using the same babysitter that the children have known for the past few years. Instead, the young children will be forced to walk up a stretch of paved road without any sidewalks. There are no houses, so if there were a problem, the girls would have nowhere to seek help.

What is more frustrating for Reyns is her employer will not help. She must be at work at 8:30 a.m. and the school bus arrives at 8:40 a.m.

To compound her problem, Ms. Reyns was only notified days before school started. She had little time to make any alternative arrangement or consider her choices.

Reyns is not alone. Susan Christie, a Warkworth-area parent, says families have enough trouble finding reliable childcare. This becomes even harder when parents must find a place along a designated bus route because the Kawartha Pine Ridge District school board has decided this year to strictly enforce its busing policies.

That means some children will be walking further to centralized pick up spots. It also means some children will not be dropped off at babysitters’ homes. All of this is being done to save money.

Grafton parent Carrie Baxter sums it up in an article in a local newspaper by saying families will sit around the kitchen table and decide whether is it more important for a child to go to school or for parents to go to work.

The reaction by school board officials is pathetic.

Board chairman Bob Willsher says safety issues will be accommodated and parents can appeal, if there are safety concerns only.

Local trustee Gord Gilchrist says there are deserving exceptions, but the onus must be on parents to get children to school safely.

“Why can’t you, the parent, ensure the child gets to the bus stop safely so we can run an efficient bus system,” he is quoted as saying in local media.

This callous display of insensitive political mumbo-jumbo is enough to bring the wrath of parents down on the school board, trustees and employers.

First, the school board has turned its back on parents and the safe transportation of children to schools. Regardless of what finger-pointing trustees and staff would result by such criticism, busing should be one of the last places to go slashing so deeply that children’s safety would be in jeopardy.

But the board should also go one step further in trying to work with parents who have jobs and need childcare. Parents should not be put into circumstances where they cannot place children in the best care, not the most convenient pick up or drop off location. Obviously a dot on a map is more important than kids to the school board.

In another example of twisted logic, the board puts in place an appeals process that sends parents scrambling to get a fair hearing. If school board staff will not help, then parents must go to the resources committee. It will make a recommendation that needs final approval by the entire group of trustees. This does nothing to make it easy for parents to deal with the issues that arise when it comes to getting a child to school. While it may seem like the fair and democratic thing to do from the board’s perspective, parents are left waiting for a resolution rather than getting a solution.

Once parents find out they will not get bus service, they are left in limbo making temporary arrangements. If the parents win the appeal, then there the temporary solution can be dropped. But if they lose, then a permanent solution must be found, delaying and disrupting family life even longer.

One wonders if process is more important than people. From his comments, it seems Willsher feels this way.

And Gilchrist comments speak for themselves. If he is any example, trustees are just heartless decision-makers who pinch pennies and do not care about children. Trustees should find another way to balance a budget rather than leaving parents and children to suffer. Any defence of their policy is mere huffing and puffing.

As grandparents, parents and human beings, it is hard to believe any trustees could care so little about families in our community. They should be defending them. Nobody can blame the provincial government’s lack of funding for what is really a lack of conscience.

It is apparent trustees have forgotten several incidents last year when children were nearly abducted. All anyone has to do is look at the case of the five-year old girl in London, Ontario, who was abducted from a ground floor apartment, and found raped and murdered. Is it any wonder why parents have a real reason to worry about the safety of their children?

Finally, Ms. Reyns’ employer should be ashamed. Surely a happy employee is a good employee. By allowing a single parent to make sure her children are safely on their way to school should be reason enough to let someone come in a few minutes late. Flexible scheduling is done my many successful firms around the world and in our community.

Parents, parent councils and taxpayers should attend the September 12 meeting of the board’s resource committee and the subsequent full board meeting on September 27. Enough is enough. Children and their families must be the first principle when making budget decision.

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