UXBRIDGE: “I don’t want to walk from above Quaker Village Public School to Uxbridge Secondary School,” School Board Trustee Joe Allin told members of council during a deputation this week.
However, that is precisely what faces many Uxbridge students following recent changes to the Durham District School Board’s transportation policy.
Representatives from the school board appeared before council at their meeting on the evening of Monday, Sept. 22 to explain the rationale behind a recent decision to eliminate bussing for students living within four kilometres of Uxbridge Secondary School.
According to local School Board Trustee Joe Allin, two factors contributed to changes to the bussing policy, which has meant a greater walk to school for students living in Quaker Village and Sandy Hook.
The first was an audit by the Ministry of Education, a ten per cent penalty equalling $2 million was applied to the board. The other was the discontinuance of special passes offered to students in the southern portion of Durham Region.
“Should the grant be restored, there is an understanding that there will be a discussion about restoring previous standards,” explained Mr. Allin.
However, councillors were quick to point out that weather conditions are drastically different in North Durham and should not be held to the same standards as communities south of Hwy. 7.
“I was appalled with the lack of understanding from some trustees about the difference in weather between North and South Durham,” commented Mayor Gerri Lynn O’Connor. “We don’t have the same weather as the south. They don’t get as much snow or ice or have as many school cancellations as we do in the north.”
Trustee Allin explained to councillors that there is a “myth” about the availability of public transit in South Durham.
“Durham Region Transit (DRT) is not that mature, and 60 per cent of students in the southern municipalities don’t have access to a bus that would get them to school in a reasonable amount of time.”
However, several members of council took issue with these claims, noting that any transit options are limited in Uxbridge Township.
“In Uxbridge, we get bus service two days a week, and in the south you have regular service through DRT and GO. And we’re paying the same amount for transit in the north without any of the service,” countered Mayor O’Connor. “It’s not safe for kids in my opinion to be walking these distances to school. I feel our kids’ safety issues - particularly in the winter - are secondary.”
Regional Councillor Jack Ballinger explained that he recently walked to the high school from a location in Quaker Village, a trip that took more than 40 minutes in ideal summer conditions. As well, Councillor Ballinger noted the added traffic around the area of Uxbridge SS and Joseph Gould PS that this measure has created.
“Walking 42 minutes to school is not fair,” said Councillor Ballinger. “If you collect as much tax as the township does, Uxbridge has to get some value for its money, and this is going to bring even more traffic to the area around the high school, which is already an issue.”
Mr. Allin explained that in order to restore bussing levels to their previous standards, it would take an additional $800,000 in funding. As well, representatives from the school board claimed that only 21 students were affected by the change, a figure disputed by many residents in attendance.
Ward 5 Councillor and Quaker Village resident Gord Highet, whose daughter is affected by the change in the transportation policy, also expressed his dismay with the changes.
“You are basically telling Uxbridge students they’re second class citizens and it’s okay to put their lives in jeopardy to save some money,” said Councillor Highet.
Mayor O’Connor requested that if additional funding for transportation of Uxbridge students is not forthcoming, that a meeting be arranged between school board officials, township staff, representatives from the Ministry of Education and local parents.
Trustee Allin closed his deputation by explaining that the township would be informed of any future news relating to this matter, and expressed sadness that he is leaving office - to run for the position of Regional Councillor in Brock Township - with the matter unresolved.
“It saddens me that I leave this office with this issue.”