But under rules set out by the Sudbury Student Services Consortium, children in Grades 1-3 travelling less than a kilometre to school are not eligible for school bus transportation.
If Abbie-May were to walk to École St-Joseph in Hanmer, where she began Grade 1 Sept. 4, she'd have to walk on roads with no sidewalks and cross one fairly busy road – St. Mary's Boulevard — without the help of a crossing guard, Gillian said.
“Just with her being a child, she doesn't have the necessary skills to assess danger, and recognize and react to it,” Gillian said.
“Her small stature makes it easy to not be seen by cars or to see cars, so I feel she's at a greater risk taking that walk to school.”
She said she does agree with putting age limits on access to school bus transportation, but feels they should be revised.
“The World Health Organization has a lot of good information out there, and everything you read supports the idea that it should be closer to the age of 10 and 12 when they're able to start recognizing danger and react to it,” Gillian said.
“I do think the policy (for school bus transportation) needs to be revised to a more appropriate age. I don't think Grade 1 is the appropriate age.”
The child's babysitter can't walk her to school because she's caring for children attending various schools, as well as others who aren't in school yet, she said.
The idea of setting up a “walking school bus,” where an older child would walk her to school, wouldn't work either, Gillian said. “The oldest kids in the school are only eight or nine years old, as it only goes up to Grade 3.”
In the meantime, Gillian has solved the problem by switching from her babysitter to École St-Joseph's before and after school daycare program.
This service is more expensive than the babysitter, but she said she's not going to allow her daughter to walk to school by herself this year.
“We can reassess it when she's eight, nine or 10 years old, and has gained more of those necessary skills,” Gillian said.
Renée Boucher, executive director of the Sudbury Student Services Consortium, said children in junior and senior kindergarten are bussed to school no matter the distance, but the rules change once they reach Grade 1.
Children in Grades 1-3 who live less than a kilometre from school are expected to walk, she said. That distance rises to 1.6 kilometres for Grades 4-8 students and 2.5 kilometres for Grades 9-12 students.
The rules apply to the students in all four school boards serving the Greater Sudbury, Espanola and Manitoulin Island areas.
An exception is made for students in Grade 6 and below who must cross major roadways such as The Kingsway to get to their school, Boucher said.
She said parents do have the right to appeal to the Sudbury Student Services Consortium if they feel their child should be on the bus.
The consortium will take measures such as having a safety officer assess the route the child takes to school, and having a route planner measure the distance to the school to see if the child should actually receive bus transportation.
If the parent still isn't satisfied, the matter would be referred to the consortium's managers and then the group's board of directors, which is made up of superintendents of the four local school boards, Boucher said.
In many cases, an alternate solution can be found, she said.
“If a school knows one particular family has a older child or the sitter walks the children to and from school every day, the school or the consortium will help the parents and give them different solutions,” Boucher said.
“However, it is the primary duty of care for the parent to either find a guardian or to walk their children to or from school or drive them to or from school if they live within those distances.”
Children in Greater Sudbury actually have it pretty good compared to kids in the rest of the province, Boucher said. “Here in the Greater Sudbury area, ... our walkers walk shorter distances than the average across the province.”