An Osoyoos parent’s not-so-fond memories of a daily bus ride to Oliver for classes is drawing considerable support in the Facebook group in which it is posted.
But the Okanagan Similkameen School District paints a different picture of bus travel today — one that is improved with better-trained drivers, modern equipment and even surveillance tools.
The conversation comes as the School District ponders closing one of the Osoyoos schools and transporting secondary school students — by bus — to Oliver.
J.F. Launier, owner of JF Customs, wrote earlier this week about what he witnessed on his daily bus ride to Oliver as a Grade 8 student more than two decades ago — the last time all Osoyoos secondary students attended school in Oliver.
“The seats are tall and offer good visual protection from the driver,” he recalls. “If you let your guard down 15 or 20 minutes into the trip to study or do homework, it becomes a great time to strike and call you nasty names, knock your books over and punch you in the legs while you gather you belongings.”
The tall seats, lack of belts and busy driver combined to create a perfect environment for adolescence mischievousness and misconduct.
“There are more kids on the bus than in any classroom,” Mr. Launier wrote. “This means even if the driver devoted all his time to managing the kids it would be overwhelming.
“There are no seatbelts, so the kids do move around during travel. The seats are tall for crash safety but pose a problem for inappropriate activity.”
That inappropriate activity included drug sales and use, sexual misconduct and bullying.
“I witnessed food, school work and even the broom get thrown from the bus,” he wrote. “Even if you are a great kid, the peer pressure becomes overwhelming to get involved in questionable activities to avoid being bullied.”
A number of parents stepped forward with horror stories of their own — including an Ashnola-area mother whose children attend school in Cawston.
Another writer recalled the animosity between Osoyoos and Oliver students and how it boiled over onto the bus.
Another writer recalls the time an Osoyoos bus was hijacked.
Misbehavior on buses was seen by one writer as a problem not just isolated to Osoyoos and area.
Debby Sansome, SD53’s Director Facilities, paints a different picture of bus security today.
“The wide mirror in the front of the bus allows the driver to observe what is taking place on the bus,” she said. “If any issues arise that need more than the attention of the driver, then an incident report is filed with the Principal who will investigate the concern.”
Ms. Sansome said most of the SD53 buses also have cameras installed.
“These cameras are often a deterrent for misbehaviour on the bus. The cameras loop, therefore video is not retained for very long so review has to be done right away. Subsequently, action is also taken right away. “
Bus safety is also paramount, said Ms. Sansome.
“As with any vehicle, technology improves safety features,” she said. “I am not able to do a comparison of the bus fleet 30 years ago with today’s, but I can tell you of a few safety features that have come about in the past decade or so:
- Extending Stop Arm
- Exterior flashing lights larger and more visible
- GPS tracking can monitor driver speed and quick response if a roadside breakdown
- Automatic transmissions so better focus on the road
- Larger mirrors both in and outside the bus for higher visibility
Ms. Sansome said driver training is just as important as technology.
“Our drivers are already held to a higher standard as they carry a commercial vehicle license. They are responsible for a thorough pre- and post-trip inspection of their bus and we have incorporated technology to aid them with this as well. They utilize a handheld electronic device that records each part of the pre- and post-trip process.
“Each driver has received First Aid Training and holds a Level 1 First Aid Certificate which includes child specific CPR.”
“We value our students and their safety above all else.”
Read Mr. Launier’s Facebook post here.