Changes leave some eastern Ontario families without school transportation

Marc-André Amyot is the father of three children in L'Orignal, part of eastern Ontario's Champlain Township. He said some of his kids now don't qualify for a school bus. (Chantal Dubuc/Radio-Canada - image credit)

Some students in eastern Ontario will no longer be eligible for school transportation when classes resume, leaving parents to find other ways to get their children to and from school.

The Consortium de transport scolaire de l'Est (CTSE), which manages bus transportation for the Conseil des écoles publiques de l'Est de l'Ontario (CEPEO) and Conseil scolaire de district catholique de l'Est Ontarien (CSDCEO), announced the changes to parents in a statement Monday.

The statement explains that the distance between the student's home and school to qualify for school transportation will be increased, so some students will no longer make the cut.

CTSE told parents the changes are due to a re-evaluation of eligibility criteria carried out by the Ontario Ministry of Education.

Marc-André Amyot from L'Orignal said his son will no longer be able to take the bus to school. However, his youngest daughter is still eligible under the distance requirement for students in junior kindergarten and kindergarten.

Amyot said he will now have to drive his son to school, following the bus his daughter is in, which then means he will have to start work later.

He said he also worries about the safety of children who live on busy rural streets that will now have to walk to school.

"There are no pathways here. Cars are rolling fast, way over the limits," he said.

"During winter, it's super dangerous, they take 12 hours to shovel the snow. So, imagine a six-year-old walking with his big bag under a snowstorm with the snow removal operations going around him … where cars are driving at 80, 90 kilometres an hour."

Cost considerations

Both school boards jointly responded in writing, saying they understand safety concerns and they want to ensure the changes have as little impact as possible on children and their families.

However, Amyot said the options available to parents are costly. He said parents who are unable to pick up their children can enrol in after-school care, but it costs $20 a day or thousands of dollars a year,

"It's big money," he said. "These parents, if they can't make it [after school] they have to work harder, they have to make more hours at work, that means less relationships with their kids … They try to save some money but there are plenty [of] other ideas"

"Are [schools] going to open more spaces? Are they going to have more financial assistance?" said fellow L'Orignal parent Mathieu Beaussart in a French interview.

The office of Ontario's minister of education told Radio-Canada the province has increased its student transportation fund by six per cent or $80 million for the 2024-2025 school year. The fund now totals $1.3 billion.

It said the new student transportation funding formula sets out common, consistent benchmarks across the province.