CedarBridge Academy students were unable to get to their practice SAT exams on time this week because of continuing disruptions to their school bus service.
“Major concerns” have been raised by staff, parents and students that they will miss, or be late for, further exams due to start on Monday.
The Public Transportation Board told stakeholders at a meeting that school bus cancellations were due to issues with work rosters which must be resolved with the Bermuda Industrial Union, an official CedarBridge spokeswoman said.
This newspaper reached out to the BIU for comment yesterday but were told that president Chris Furbert no longer speaks to The Royal Gazette despite him giving quotes to one of our reporters on Thursday regarding industrial action at the City of Hamilton.
Meanwhile, a Government spokesman acknowledged the problem had existed for some time.
“The work roster of bus drivers has been a contributor to the disruption of buses. For more than 12 years, we have failed to reach an agreement with unionised workers for changes to the bus schedule, which would use less buses than the current schedule, and which we believe would go a long way to resolving outstanding issues. The DPT has spoken with the union to assist in finding a solution for CedarBridge, and this dialogue is ongoing.”
The spokesman said that nine school bus runs had been listed for cancellation yesterday, but added: “In fact, all the runs to CedarBridge Academy were eventually covered with the rerouting of other buses on the road, although they would have been running behind time”.
During the 111 days that CedarBridge students have been in school since the start of term, a total of 57 days had been impacted according to the spokesperson at CedarBridge — 25 days (44 per cent) out of the East were impacted and 51 (89 per cent) out of the West, with one or more buses being cancelled. On eight of those days no buses at all turned up to the school.
The issue was raised by shadow transport minister Lawrence Scott during Wednesday’s House of Assembly sitting, calling on “solutions sooner rather than later”.
Impact on student learning is the main concern for teachers at CedarBridge. The official school spokeswoman said: “If students are not in class for any amount of time, that impacts on their learning. When students come in late and walk into a classroom they are interrupting the instruction that is going on at that time.
“We have several teachers who use the bus, so if teachers are using the bus and the buses don’t come again, that is further disruption on the school.
“Buses were late this week which meant the PSAT 9 exam had to be moved to a later time — we changed our schedule so that the students that were scheduled to take the exam could take it which impacted on the entire day.
“We were told that the issue is with work rosters and that has to be resolved with the BIU. That’s what we were told — that’s why we don’t have any buses available.”
According to the spokeswoman, students have complained that, on bus cancellation days, they tried to catch regular buses but drivers will not pick them up even when there are very few passengers on board.
There have also been two cases of CedarBridge students being assaulted while walking to alternative bus stops trying to get home.
At Tuesday’s meeting with stakeholders, the Public Transportation Board did not give any assurances that the buses would be able to get the students to school for their exams which start next week, the spokeswoman said. Since the meeting there were two consecutive days with disruptions to the school’s service.
The spokeswoman believes that the issue is predominantly with CedarBridge. “We are in communication with other schools and they are not having the level of problems we have here at CedarBridge — we track everything and keep a record of it.”
A survey questioning more than 600 parents, teachers and students showed there was “grave concern” over the situation.
PTA president at CedarBridge Llewka Richards said the problem was not new. She told us: “It is a very unfortunate situation we have been having with this bus issue at least four years but I know it is much older than that.
“Two years ago we reached out to PTB and invited stakeholders to come in and try to find a solution. Some things were put into place but they have not really come into fruition. We had the meeting on Tuesday because we have noticed it is too frequent with morning and evening buses. It is affecting our students because they are getting in late or are not being picked up in the afternoon and are having to walk as far as Middle Road, Devonshire, East Broadway or Palmetto Road to catch a bus.”
Asked whether she felt more confident about the situation following Tuesday’s meeting, Ms Richards responded: “I am not feeling any better about it. Although we mentioned that midterm exams are next week — today is the second consecutive morning since then that our students have not had buses.
“PTB gave us an overview and how many are out of commission and there are quite a few.
“This morning I was quite upset because they noted there were 11 noted cancellations and six were CedarBridge and I feel there should have been cancellations across the board.
“The PTB director and his team tried to stress that it is not just us but we don’t seem to hear any other schools complaining but every day, without fail, we are affected.
“Students’ education is very important and we need to find a solution.”
During the House of Assembly sitting, Minister for Education Cole Simons said the issue of buses at CedarBridge was a “priority” for the Ministry.
He said a meeting had been called between the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Transport to seek a solution.