Sudbury Catholic District School Board trustees have flip-flopped on a controversial busing boundary decision made two years ago, with some expressing the sentiment they were hasty in their original choice.
Some parents are celebrating the board's decision, which would mean Grade 7 and 8 students in the Walden area can once again catch a school bus to a South End high school, while others are expressing disappointment.
In 2017, Sudbury Catholic District School Board administration proposed sending Grade 7 and 8 French Immersion students at St. James Catholic Elementary School in Lively to St. Benedict Catholic Secondary School in the South End.
They cited extremely low enrolment as the reason behind the proposal.
After an outcry from parents, Sudbury Catholic trustees passed a motion changing school busing boundaries in the area, meaning future Grade 7 and 8 students from the area wouldn't have the option of being bused to St. Ben's.
It was hoped the busing ban would increase enrolment at the school.
Parents were still allowed to send their children in Grade 7 and 8 to St. Ben's if they provide transportation themselves.
But at a school board meeting last month, a delegation of parents who wished to have busing to St. Ben's restored made a presentation to trustees.
Parents opposed to the idea spoke out, with a debate breaking out on social media, including on the Ward 2 Community Board Facebook page.
As he did two years ago, Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini even got involved, setting up a community meeting last month for residents to discuss the issue.
Sudbury Catholic trustees deferred making a decision on the issue to this month to get more information, but ultimately voted April 16 in favour of restoring busing to St. Benedict, reversing their 2017 decision.
While the board originally promised to keep the busing ban for four years to see if there was an improvement in French Immersion enrolment, board chair Michael Bellmore said sometimes the board needs to revisit decisions.
Numbers provided by the board show there's currently four French Immersion students at St. James in Grade 6, seven in Grade 7 and two in Grade 8, and these students are in a Grade 6, 7, 8 split class.
Bellmore said St. Benedict has a robust French Immersion program. Trustees decided to give Walden students at this level “an opportunity to have all of the same kinds of opportunities as their peers in other schools,” he said, referring to access to St. Ben's.
“A lot of the trustees who are at the table this term as well indicated some remorse or regret, and felt they made a decision hastily two years ago, and felt that that was not necessarily an appropriate decision,” Bellmore said.
“A lot of emotion came into play making that decision. (They felt) they owed the students and the parents in that area, as well as the board, a sober second thought to that catchment area.”
Meanwhile, St. James parent Mia Gedye said she's concerned more kids being bused out of town could have a far-reaching impact on enrolment not just limited to French Immersion at the Grade 7 and 8 level.
“It's disappointing for us as a community,” said Gedye, who has a son in Grade 5 in the English program at St. James, and is also co-chair of the school council.
She said she's been fielding questions from “panicking” parents who have just enrolled their children in kindergarten at St. James.
“My concern is the parents that are registering their kids,” Gedye said. “They registered them for a K-8 program, and now with all of this uncertainty, I worry that they will remove their kids, and our registration will go down.”
Marsha Lowe and Angela McCandless were the parents who presented at the Sudbury Catholic board meeting last month in support of restoring busing to St. Benedict.
While only two people are allowed to present as part of a delegation to the board, Lowe told Sudbury.com in March they have the support of 36 families.
Both she and McCandless have children at both St. James and St. Benedict. The older children are able to be bused because they were grandfathered under the previous busing boundaries.
She said the French Immersion program at St. James continues to have low enrolment, despite the busing boundary changes two years ago.
Lowe also pointed out that more students are simply moving to the English public Lively District Secondary School in Grade 7.
In an email to Sudbury.com, Lowe said she was pleased by the board's decision.
“We want to thank the trustees for taking the time to consider our delegation request to review the busing and we are happy with the solution that they came to,” she said.