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Proposed busing changes steer high school program strategy

New rules may give siblings preference on courtesy seats

By Richard Leitner, News Staff

Proposed changes to the Hamilton public school board’s transportation policy will follow through on a commitment to help secondary students attend high schools outside of their area for specialized programs.

Board vice-chair Todd White said the changes will likely include some other tweaks, including on courtesy busing for elementary students, but mostly focus on providing transportation for Tier 3 high school programs.

Part of a new program strategy that is being implemented over the next three years, Tier 3 courses are those requiring special facilities, like the greenhouse at Saltfleet District High School for horticulture, or that can’t be provided at every school, such as French immersion.

Open to all students, they cover a broad spectrum of interests, from the arts and communications technology to construction, manufacturing, transportation, hospitality, cosmetology and careers in public service.

“You could live in Flamborough and choose Glendale for the performing arts and we will find transportation for you,” said White, chair of a policy committee that is drafting the proposed changes for public consultation.

“The policy’s not specific on the mode of transportation. That would be unique, based on where the student lives, whether it’s going to be HSR, (school) bus, etcetera, but we are committing in this policy that across the board we will provide transportation.”

The proposed changes won’t alter the present maximum walking distances of one kilometre for kindergarten, 1.6 kilometres for grades 1 to 8 and 3.2-kilometres for high school.

But they will potentially revise how empty “courtesy” seats are allotted on elementary school buses for those living within walking distance by giving preference to students with siblings in kindergarten.

“If you’re in Grade 3 and your sibling is in JK receiving a bus to school, logically speaking, why would we have one child on the bus and the other child walk?” White said.

“In this case, we would try to couple siblings together. It’s a more family-friendly approach.”

White said he expects the policy committee to fine-tune any proposed changes early next month for approval by trustees before they go out for public consultation.

He said the committee still wants to examine costs – staff last year estimated the high school programming strategy would add $865,000 to the annual busing bill – and whether walking distances hurt attendance at some high schools.

“Are there secondary schools that have low attendance rates and are there correlations with transportation? We don’t know the answer to that yet; we haven’t seen the data,” White said.

“I imagine if the committee does identify barriers based on distance, attendance and transportation, there could be further consideration, but I can only speculate at this point.”

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