Safety at the top of backto-school items in CBN

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY NICHOLAS MERCER

With stu­dents across New­found­land and Labrador headed back to classes last week, there was plenty of talk about sup­plies, class lists and new class­mates.

How­ever, par­ent groups in Bay Roberts and Har­bour Grace took the op­por­tu­nity to show their dis­plea­sure with the New­found­land and Labrador English School Dis­trict’s (NLESD) de­ci­sion to en­force a 1.6 kilo- me­tre buf­fer zone around Co­ley’s Point Pri­mary and St. Fran­cis School.

The buf­fer zone pre­vents stu­dents who live within it from hav­ing a reg­u­lar bus run and re­quires them to walk to school ev­ery day.

In Har­bour Grace last Wed­nes­day, some three-dozen par­ents, stu­dents and elected of­fi­cials came to­gether in the morn­ing be­fore school opened on the park­ing lot be­hind the school.

“Safety is a huge, huge thing,” St. Fran­cis par­ent Shelly Wil­liams told The Com­pass. “There’s no in­fras­truc­ture. If they want to make this a provincewide change, ru­ral ar­eas can’t sup­port what metro ar­eas can sup­port. We don’t have any cross­walks. We don’t even have a shoul­der on the road.

“Par­ents are very con­cerned with chil­dren com­ing to school and be­ing in un­safe con­di­tions.”

Chil­dren who can use the bus will need to be out ear­lier to catch it. That’s fine for this time of year when there’s still a sliver of light early in the morn­ing, but as fall stretches into win­ter, it’ll be dark when they first get on road ei­ther walk­ing or wait­ing for the bus.

This year, St. Fran­cis gets un­der­way at 8:05 a.m., al­most an hour ahead of last year.

That means stu­dents as young as five-years-old will be forced onto the streets as early as 7 a.m. while they wait for the bus

The buf­fer zone af­fects 120 of the school’s 300 stu­dents. It means they’ll be forced to tra­verse large parts of Route 60 through Har­bour Grace. It’s a por­tion of the Con­cep­tion Bay High­way and un­der pro­vin­cial ju­ris­dic­tion.

Later in the week, three-dozen par­ents and stu­dents in Bay Roberts made what can be a treach­er­ous walk from Pow­ell’s Su­per­mar­ket to Co­ley’s Point Pri­mary. Along the way, the group was passed by a cou­ple of buses that were less than half full with stu­dents and dozens of ve­hi­cles as they squeezed them­selves off the pave­ment and onto the gravel slope. In some cases, they were on peo­ple’s lawns.

For these par­ents, the morn­ing was about mir­ror­ing the walk their chil­dren will take each morn­ing to get to class.

Even the most hard­ened walker would bris­tle at the thought of walk­ing the 1.6-kms to school. And, that’s be­fore the morn­ings get darker and the snow starts.

“No one seems to re­al­ize what we’re talk­ing about,” said par­ent Michelle Gal­lant. “We’re writ­ing it down, we’re tak­ing pic­tures but no one is believ­ing it. I truly be­lieve that if any­one that’s set­ting this pol­icy saw what we had to walk through, they would make a change.

“There’s no one that would tell these kids that they have to go through this ev­ery­day.”

“Over the sum­mer months, I’ve taken the con­cerns of res­i­dents and have sev­eral meet­ings with the school dis­trict,” said Har­bour Grace-Port de Grave MHA Pam Par­sons, who took part in both events. “I also brought them to the at­ten­tion of the min­is­ter of ed­u­ca­tion.

“There’s a con­cern for safety. I will con­tinue to bring the con­cerns to the gov­ern­ment and the school dis­trict. It’s some­thing I won’t give up on.”

NICHOLAS MERCER/TC ME­DIA

Par­ents and stu­dents at St. Fran­cis school in Har­bour Grace protested the changes to start times and the im­ple­men­ta­tion of a 1.6 kilo­me­tre buf­fer zone Wed­nes­day morn­ing in Har­bour Grace.

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