Some parents are decrying the end to a decade-old program that escorted some young students to school every morning.
The Ottawa Student Transportation Authority (OSTA) said it’s cutting the walking school bus program for the 2023-24 school year because of a lack of funding.
The bus — with one paid adult at each end — would follow a certain route to each school, with students joining the train of children along the way.
“[It’s] great to have a safe option to help us get the kids to school,” said Tara Fehlings, whose two children go to Connaught Public School.
“We drop them off at their little stop at the bottom of our street at 8:03 in the morning and I love the idea of supporting active transportation to school. I think it’s really community building, great for physical and mental health for the kids.”
There were around two dozen children who took part in the walking school bus at her kids’ school, but not all the programs were as popular.
The program was only available to students at nine schools, including Convent Glen Catholic School, Devonshire Public School and Half Moon Bay Public School, with anywhere from six to 20 students taking part at each school.
The distance students have to travel to school before being eligible for a bus depends on their grade.
For kids in junior and senior kindergarten it’s 0.8 kilometres and for grade 1 to 8 students it’s 1.6 kilometres. Those in high school have to travel 3.2 kilometres before being eligible for a bus pass.
“It helps [send a] message to some parents who may be a bit hesitant about having their kids walk to school, that it is safe, it can be done in all seasons,” said Chris Bouchard, who sits on the local school council at Woodroffe Avenue Public School.
She also worries that any savings from ending the program will be shifted elsewhere because more students will begin taking the school bus and others will be driven, meaning more staff may have to be hired to direct traffic.
“It’s not necessarily a no-cost solution just to cancel this program,” she said.
Yet, she believes there’s an appetite for continuing the program and including new routes, even if it’s done without OSTA.
Bouchard said programs like this help build community for students and parents at schools and if there isn’t a continued push to keep them alive, future students will miss out.
“If investments aren’t made to address the natural turnover that happens in school, then you’ll just have kids aging out of the program,” said Bouchard.
“You need for those face-to-face human connections to be made with new kids who are coming into the school to help get them engaged, otherwise all the kids will just grow up and move on.”
Neither the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board nor the Ottawa Catholic School Board made anyone available for an interview to discuss the program’s end.