(Bathurst, NB - November 25, 2010) - A Bathurst mother who lost her son in a 15 passenger van collision nearly three years ago says the New Brunswick Department of Education "hasn't learned a thing" from the Boys in Red Tragedy.
Isabelle Hains says news that a New Brunswick chartered bus company carrying 60 children from Marshview Middle School in Sackville was pulled over in Halifax and again in Enfield, Nova Scotia on Wednesday for violations of the provincial winter tire regulations is "unbelieveable after everything we have been through these past three years."
Hains says she "can't believe" that the District 2 Superintendent Karen Branscombe and the principal of the Marshview Middle School allowed school children to be transported to extra curricular activities in charter buses without the proper winter tires.
"Branscombe can say they were following regulations all she wants but the fact is that the Department of Education hasn't learned a thing from the Boys in Red Tragedy and children continue to be transported to extra curricular activities in an unsafe manner," said Hains.
Hains son Daniel was one of seven high school basketball players from the Bathurst High School Phantoms who was killed along with the coach's wife in a a tragic 15 passenger van collision in January 2008. In the aftermath of the crash, 15 passenger vans were banned for student transportation in New Brunswick and replaced with Multi Function Activity Buses (MFABs) driven by volunteers with a Class 4 license.
Hains says the Nova Scotia incident points to the larger issue of who should be driving students to extra curricular activities and in what vehicles. She says the safest mode of transportation for students is the traditional yellow school bus or the new MFAB driven by licensed, Class 2 Bus Drivers. "They are professionals who drive for a living," says Hains.
The May 2009 Coroners Inquest into the Bathurst tragedy recommended that only licensed, Class 2 yellow school bus drivers should be driving children to extra curricular events, but Hains says the Department of Education immediately ignored the recommendation.
Instead the Department introduced a seven hour volunteer driver training program consisting of four hours behind a computer and three in the classroom. Volunteers include teachers, coaches and parents whose children are involved in sports. Hains says that documents recently released by the Department of Education under the Access to Information Act show that more than half of the people who signed up for the driver training dropped out, and the feedback from the training sessions show that the participants who did complete the program "do not have the commitment that professional drivers have to transporting students safely," she said.
Comments on the feedback forms include: "I am a volunteer. I am not a mechanic. I am a teacher." "I am not sure I want to drive the van is too big" "I think the responsibility given to volunteers is too large."
Hains says that since the Coroners Inquest, she repeatedly asked the former Minister of Education, Roland Hache (Nigadoo-Chaleur) to hire licensed Class 2 drivers for the MFABs. "As recently as August Mr. Hache told me he would 'never, never never' pay school bus drivers to drive the new MFABs."
"Mr. Hache said yellow school bus drivers should volunteer."
Hains says when the principals can't get volunteers to drive the MFABs, they hire private charters like the one which found itself in trouble in Nova Scotia.
"The private charters do not have to measure up to the strict safety regulations for yellow school buses and that's why they hire them instead," said Hains.
Hains says it's a violation of the Department's own student transportation regulations which say that yellow school buses should be the first priority for extra curricular transportation. "In the end, it probably cost more money to hire those two chartered buses than it would have been to hire a school bus driver for $18.27 an hour plus 62 cents a kilometre," she said.
Hains says it's been three years since the Bathurst tragedy and she wants to know what the new Premier, David Alward, and the new Minister of Education, Jody Carr, intend to do about the state of extra-curricular student transportation in New Brunswick.
"The week before the election Premier Alward personally phoned me and told me that he would not hide from this issue," said Hains. "I sincerely hope that the Premier and Minister of Education intend to take a different approach to student transportation safety than the previous government and I will be asking for a meeting with them to discuss this file."
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