Busing policies changed to accommodate joint custody arrangements
London Community News
By Mallory Clarkson/London Community News/Twitter: @MalloryClarkson
Divorced parents who have school-aged children now have a bit more flexibility when it comes to busing their kids to and from school.
Following a Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario ruling in April and implementation date of Aug. 1, the Southwestern Ontario Student Transportation Service (STS) now has to better accommodate custody arrangements where the student may have two primary addresses.
“I think it’s really an opportunity to be more responsive to modern family situations,” said Maureen Cosyn Heath, general manager for the London-region consortium of STS, which services the Thames Valley District and London District Catholic school boards.
In total, STS services more than 200 school sites with nine contracted bus companies. Approximately 50,000 families are eligible to be bused through STS.
The organization’s previous policy stated that a primary address had to be registered for each student, but an alternate address could also be used for drop offs. But, the latter stop had to be used consistently, Monday through Friday.
For parents with joint custody, that could create a dilemma. And it did for the parents of a student who attends one of the Catholic Board’s elementary schools.
After being denied an accommodation request, the parents — who live at two separate addresses — filed an application to the tribunal. In that document, the student’s mother alleged the board and STS were discriminating against the student when he wasn’t allowed “to take different school buses to his parents’ respective homes on alternating weeks.”
During the tribunal’s deliberations, Cosyn Heath said changing the existing policies could cause issues with timing and an alternate schedule would present a greater safety risk for children. That’s something she has maintained since the ruling.
“We continue to believe that consistent schedules are a key component of us being able to effectively deliver safe service,” Cosyn Heath told London Community News. “As soon as there’s any kind of inconsistency, there’s that margin for errors.”
She added the updated policy, however, is ready to go — information is currently being communicated with families who have expressed interest in accommodation requests. A total of 10 people have applied so far, which will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Only cases involving joint custody arrangements are eligible.
In regards to how the new model will work, Cosyn Heath said it’s the parents — as well as school staff’s — responsibility to make sure kids are educated as to which bus they’re boarding at the end of each school day.
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