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Sep 5, 2008

Transportation probs leaves students stranded on the highway

Story PictureIt’s not just teachers and school administrators that have been frustrated since the start of the school year … Early this morning News Five’s Marion Ali and cameraman Chris Mangar travelled up the Western Highway to mile thirty-one where they found parents and students up in arms over transportation.

Marion Ali, Reporting
For most of this week primary school children at Mahogany Heights have been waiting for a school bus to pick them up and drop them off in Belize City for classes. But that wait has been in vain for at least three days as the according to the residents, they were turned away. The reason is that the bus provided by the Ministry of Education is specifically assigned to pick up high school students, not primary school children.

Yolanda Nunez, Grandparent, Mahogany Heights
“My grandson never gone dah school yesterday because dehn tek dehn off ah di bus yesterday morning. Dat primary school students can’t ride di bus no more only high school students.”

Marion Ali
“Who di seh dis?”

Yolanda Nunez
“Dehn seh dat dah weh di Ministry of Education di seh because dehn seh di conrat fi di bus driver dah only fi high school students, noh fi primary school.”

Alford Butler, Parent, Mahogany Heights
“All di while wi never have di problem cause we used to have wah bus back yah, which was wah longer bus weh used to ker both high school and primary school children. Dah just since school started. Dis was just dis week because we neva had wa problem last week but weh happen, dehn seh di bus is overloaded. For the first week, di bus was only taking high school students because school; neva open yet fi primary school. Afta when school open fi primary school den di problem start to arise because lotta primary school children deh up yah right.”

Rosita Polanco, Parent, Mahogany Heights
“Di first day wen school mi open di Monday, everything was good but den di bus mi full. Di second day we wait right outside weh pah we always wait as usual, dehn noh pick up nobody. So yesterday when dehn come dehn seh only high school students dehn wah ker di middle dehn. I seh dat noh mek no sense.”

Marion Ali
“So dis noh only affect di students, ih affect you too right?”

Rosita Polanco
“Yeah because I dah wah school warden yoh understand? And den I seh sometimes di poor pickney dehn noh even have money fi ketch. Ih affect me bad because I have to pay two dollars fi go and two dollars fi come up, dehn my pickney dehn. Dat no mek no sense. Some pickney up ya, dehn noh gaan due to di same reason dat dehn no gah money fi ketch di bus so dehn have to stay home. Lotta dehn neva gone yesterday and ih no mek no sense cause school jus open.”

Some of the children have been waiting at the bus stop from as early as six-thirty, but the only buses that pass are the commercial ones, which charge them. An already crowded National Transport bus stopped for them at around seven o’clock and the children crammed themselves onboard in order to get to school on time. The remaining students who could not fit on, simply had to miss another day of school. The decision to provide one bus for the village was made at the Ministry of Education level.

Patrick Faber, Minister of Education
“Our policy is that where there is a school in your area, that is the school you should send your children. It is not fair nor practical to expect that if you choose to send your child to school elsewhere, especially thirty miles away, that the Ministry of Education and the government of Belize should be responsible for this. Imagine what would happen if everyone decided to do so. What we’re saying here is basically, there is a school in La Democracia, a primary school that is short of numbers, if you will, that people can send their children to. Instead, what is happening is that people are deciding that we want to send our children to Belize City and they are forcing the government to provide transportation to Belize City. The government has an obligation to provide transportation to the nearest school. If there is not a school in area, then we have an obligation to provide that transportation. And that is why we provide that transportation for high school students because there is no high school in the immediate vicinity.”

But that decision does not auger well with the parents or the Village Council.

Marion Lewis, Member, Mahogany Heights Village Council
“The assumption was that the school run was for students in general. We knew that we would have had a problem whereby the numbers of students were concerned but not the separation from high school and primary school now they separate them and they are not providing a bus for the primary school students. Yesterday we had about sixty-two students out there waiting; they did not go to school. Further down the road in Mahogany Heights, they have an additional twenty students. All those students had to go back home yesterday. Most of the parents had gone to their work place so the students were left behind unsupervised. Democracia, which only has three classrooms, and one teacher would teach about three classes, which means they divide the three classrooms into cubics. The one over there at St. Matthews is filled. I spoke with the teacher over there yesterday and she told me that over there is filled to capacity, they cannot accommodate another student. So if you see the numbers out there today, you would see that even if you take the numbers out there and take them to Democracia they won’t be able to enter that school.”

According to Minister of Education Patrick Faber, the practice of providing the bus for primary schools was one taken at the political level.

Patrick Faber
“Let me tell you that that bus run was set up just before the elections. Let me tell you that bus run was first issued to standard bearer, Mr. Charles Galvez. Let me tell you that that is the most expensive bus run in this country to the government of Belize, to the Ministry of Education. It was designed to be a political gimmick and so when the bus situation became overcrowded and people started calling in, they’re asking the ministry to provide additional busses. It cost us in excess of—am I correct Mr. Lopez?—two thousand dollars per week to run that bus run and it is unfair to the government that we should find another bus to accommodate.”

But for these parents whose only option is to school their children in Belize City, coughing up the bus fares has already begun to impact their pockets.

Alford Butler
“Its costing us parents because the parents—well me I have one child and she noh reach the stage weh dehn wah charge her but then as time goes by, she get bigger, dehn wah charge fi her too. So right now I have to find money fi ker she up and down dat dah one. And two, dehn are separated because di high school student, the bus is only for di high school student. So my little girl dat is going to high school, dehn all come back together. So now dehn have to separate dehn because di bus only wah di bring di high school student, ih noh wah di bring di primary school student. So she is in a problem. I have a problem with her I have to seh because I have to go now and find money fi mek she ketch a regular bus. So I have to deh along wid her because its not really safe for dem on a regular bus coming into Mahogany Heights.”

Yolanda Nunez
“Mi grandson gone pan regular run. I had to pay dollar fi ah and den I had to give a wah next dollar fi mek ih come back.”

Marion Ali
“And he could find ih way home when ih get off ah dah bus cause dah bus wah lef ah pan di road side?”

Yolanda Nunez
“I mek ih come pan bicycle. I lef ih bicycle right yah so when ih come den ih wah ride in.”

What Faber was willing to immediately provide was transportation for children whose parents were willing to transfer them to La Democracia, four miles away. Marion Ali for News Five.

The Mahogany Heights Village Council will hold a meeting tonight at the community centre to discuss the concern. Village Council member, Marion Lewis says they have asked the Ministry to consider transforming the nearby Ministry of Works compound into a school campus in the not-too-distant future; an idea that might very well become a greater necessity in the next school year.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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