A situation faced by a local family highlights the challenges the Sudbury Student Services Consortium faces when transporting students to school across a large geographic area.
As he lives in Val Caron, Grade 9 St. Charles College student Brandon St. Louis would normally go to Bishop Alexander Carter Secondary School.
But because the teen has a learning disability and needs to attend a life skills class, he's being sent to St. Charles instead, as he's unable to access these services at Bishop Alexander.
Brandon will be taking a small yellow school bus to school and a white bus equipped for students in wheelchairs back home, even though he's not physically disabled. This is because there aren't enough students from the Val Caron area attending St. Charles to fill a larger school bus.
The executive director of the Sudbury Student Services Consortium, the organization which provides transportation for all four local school boards, said it takes special arrangements to bus students to schools outside of their catchment area.
“I need to provide them with busing, but on smaller school buses,” Renee Boucher said.
The same thing also happens in a number of other situations, including when students live in areas where it's unsafe to stop a large school bus, such as on Highway 69 South.
Some of these buses are just small versions of regular yellow school buses, and do not have the capacity to transport students in wheelchairs.
But if a student with a physical disability is on the route, the rest of the students will be put on a white Handi-Transit bus as well.
Brandon's mother, Amanda St. Louis, said she understands the reasons her son is being placed on the smaller buses, but is concerned her son will be stigmatized or bullied for riding a bus reserved for people with disabilities — Brandon has faced the same situation in the past.
When he was in Grade 7, he rode a Handi-Transit bus home from Pius XII Catholic Elementary School and was picked on mercilessly, she said, by children in his neighbourhood. It got so bad, the family eventually moved to a new neighbourhood.
Amanda said the small yellow school bus Brandon is taking to St. Charles in the morning is fine, but the white Handi-Transit bus has her worried history will repeat itself.
“There's lots of kids on our street, and they're going to see him coming off (the bus for disabled students),” Amanda said. “He's just starting to make new friends, because we moved.”
Boucher said bus drivers have a duty to report any form of bullying to their bus line, which then passes the report along to the school the students attend.
“Then the school needs to deal with an issue,” she said. “If a school sees that there's bullying, they need to respond.”
Sudbury Catholic District School Board superintendent of school effectiveness Rosella Bagnato said all students who take life skills courses attend either St. Charles or St. Benedict Catholic Secondary School to maximize class sizes.
She said she's never heard of a situation where a student was bullied because of the bus they take to school. However, Bagnato said now that she's heard about the St. Louis family's story, she'll be looking into it.
She said the school board takes bullying very seriously, and will investigate incidents involving students even if they're not on school property.
“The bullying policy is, very simply put, that we do not tolerate that,” Bagnato said. “Every student should be free of bullying.”