Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Do We Need Another Tragedy Before They Learn?

Click here to read the story and comments on CBC New Brunswick website

Swim team travel causes waves over transportation rules

Questions are being raised over school extracurricular transportation policies after a Fredericton swim team left for a competition on a day when school buses were being sidelined due to slippery conditions.

Nicolle Carlin was driving her 14-year-old sister to Fredericton High School for a 6 a.m. departure for the Provincial Swimming Championships when her van slid off the road.

Her husband, Fenton Travis, then picked them up and continued to the school where they pleaded with the coach of the swim team not to head out, pointing out that regular school buses were delayed by order of the school district.

Carlin, who is a CBC journalist, said the coach called a counterpart at Leo Hayes High School, who advised that roads were bad in parts but they had made the decision to leave for Miramichi and had already left the capital city.

Carlin was told that if parents had a problem with their children being transported to the competition on a bus they were free to pull their children off the bus.

So that is exactly Carlin and Travis did, but they were concerned that people in charge of co-ordinating extracurricular transportation have not learned since the Bathurst van tragedy from earlier this year.

"Apparently nothing's been changed since the issue last year at Bathurst," Travis said. "So we're really disappointed with that. We figured that something would have changed in the system and the buses would be off the road."

Following the Bathurst accident 11 months ago the province has been reviewing extracurricular transportation. One of its recommendations is to charge the school district superintendent with the responsibility of deciding when to cancel travel.

Seven Bathurst High School basketball players and a local teacher were killed on Jan. 12 when their van struck a tractor-trailer on Highway 8 in winter conditions while returning to Bathurst after a night game in Moncton.

Principals still make call

The two Fredericton schools have the same superintendent but different decisions were made on whether to leave for the swim competition.

Until new rules are introduced, some time in the new year according to the Department of Education, the responsibility remains with the school principals. Travis said he has a problem with that.

"There's a serious disconnect between the people advising the school buses and the people advising the athletic travel, so there has to be some kind of a connection between the travel on the regular school buses and athletic programs here in the province," he said.

In the end, the Fredericton swim coach did decide to wait two hours before heading out. They arrived safely in Miramichi.

"It's a reminder that we need to continue to review and stress protocols with all of our coaches, regardless of the situation, regardless of when it happens," said Ann Krause, the principal at Fredericton High School.

"And if there are any questions, then certainly, they need to get in touch with me."

Krause described the situation on Monday morning as "complex." She said she was already juggling schedules at her school with classes delayed by two hours because the school buses were delayed.

She says her swim coach made the right decision to wait two hours.

Defends decision

Kevin Pottle, the principal of Leo Hayes High School, defended his team's decision to leave despite the icy conditions.

"Our team left at 5:45 this morning before any decisions had been made at the district level," Pottle said.

"When the teacher and the buses arrived this morning they would have had their own drive in to use as a guide at that point and time, as well [as] any of the parents who were driving in from rural areas. Given no concern on any of their parts, the decision was made to move forward."