Left in the lurch

Natascha and Hayden Johns will have to find another way for their Year 9 daughter to get to Cambridge High due to a Ministry of Education ruling, while their Year 12 son can continue to catch the bus.

Parents on the Leamington side of the river have been left scrambling, after a Ministry of Education ruling which means Year 9 and 10 students will be ineligible to catch the bus to Cambridge High School from the start of next term.

Ministry rules mean the students have to catch the bus to their closest available school – in this case, Cambridge Middle School, which takes students from Year 7 to Year 10. This rule has always been in place, but not enforced, however a letter to the parents from Cambridge Travel Lines said Year 9s are not allowed on the bus anymore due to “loading issues”. The Ministry of Education’s Head of Education Infrastructure Service, Kim Shannon, said Cambridge Travel Lines alerted the Ministry to the fact that the high school bus service was reaching capacity. “Once the capacity of eligible students is reached we are required to offload students who are not eligible for transport assistance. In some cases, or some days, not all eligible students take the bus to school which can be interpreted as the bus not being full,” Kim said, explaining why students have reported that the bus routinely has spare seats. Year 9s were selected to be “offloaded”, with Year 10s next on the list should bus capacity be reached, as they are also technically ineligible for the service to the high school. One of the students affected is Year 9 Annika Johns, whose mother Natascha posted on the Cambridge Grapevine Facebook page to see if others were facing the same plight. Natascha said Annika has been granted an exemption for Term Three and can still catch the bus because the rules require a term’s notice and their letter in June did not give enough warning.

After that, she will have to make other arrangements, while her brother, Toby, Year 12, can still catch the bus.  Annika’s father Hayden said the family appreciates that the bus service to the school is a privilege, however he disagrees with the way the Ministry has gone about cutting the numbers. “They (the Ministry) are being sneaky, trying to cut it down,” Hayden said.

Cambridge Middle School currently has nine Year 9 students and one Year 10, and principal Daryl Gibbs said the school strongly disagrees with the decision. It had been a topic of discussion earlier in the year, he said, but the first he knew of the Ministry’s action was when he received a phone call from a concerned parent. “There has been a bigger conversation around what education might look like in our town, which started last year, and I thought they (the Ministry) would hold off until we had some certainty. To see those letters was a bit shock to us,” he said.

As it stands, Daryl said the school would be unable to cope with an influx of Year 9 and 10 students if they all enrolled at the middle school in order to qualify for a bus. “If roughly 200 kids turned up (at the start of 2019), the Ministry would have to build 10 new classrooms in the next five months.”

The Ministry, however, disagrees with Daryl’s numbers, with Kim saying the decision is only affecting six families. The numbers of people speaking out on Facebook would appear to contradict this figure, however, with talk of a petition and protest action by disgruntled parents.

Daryl agreed there are many more than just six kids affected by the decision, saying his numbers are based on the number of children expected to be impacted in the new 2019 school year. The Ministry of Education said the move is not designed to channel the Year 9 and 10 students into the middle school, however they would deal with that if it happened. “At this stage,” Kim said, “the Ministry doesn’t expect that the enforcement of bus eligibility rules will call for additional classrooms”.

Cambridge High School’s Board of Trustees chairman Karl Thornton said that the board and school have jointly written to the Minister of Education voicing concerns about the changes. “We are waiting a reply from the Minister. We are hoping to meet with the parents and caregivers of the students who this impacts on but were hoping to have something back from the Minister before the meeting,” he said.

Cambridge Travel Lines declined to comment, referring all questions to the Ministry of Education.

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