Iqaluit’s district education authority and school bus company are asking parents to talk to their kids about unruly behaviour. (Photo by Jeff Pelletier)JEFF PELLETIER

School bus drivers and monitors in Iqaluit are getting “daily” abuse from students, says a representative with the local school authority, and the problem is only getting worse.

Nicole Giles, the chairperson of the Iqaluit DEA, says she’s worried about bus drivers and monitors quitting because of the issue.

“It’s pretty regular that the bus drivers get yelled at, and they get yelled at not only by children, but also by parents, so that’s really stressful,” she said.

“The bus drivers are not being respected, they are not being listened to and they are being treated as if they are lesser, which is just insane.”

Giles described a few examples of incidents.

In one example, a bus driver was hit in the head by a student while driving. In another, a student knocked a bus monitor’s hearing aid out of their ear. There was also an incident where a student let off a fire extinguisher on a bus.

When bus drivers, alone, are forced to manage these incidents, it poses a safety risk for everyone on board, said Mike Wilkins, the manager of R.L. Hanson Construction Ltd., the company that runs the school bus service in Iqaluit.

Wilkins has been driving school buses in Iqaluit for the past 15 years and knows what goes on behind the driver’s seat.

In addition to violence and vandalism, the company flagged alcohol consumption and vaping as issues occurring on school buses.

“It’s understandable that kids sometimes get a little amped up and they’d like to burn off some energy and we would like for them to look at the bus atmosphere as similar to being in the school where they’re following the guidelines that they’re supposed to do in school,” Wilkins said.

“There’s always lots happening and we’d like [the drivers’] attention to be on the road and safe operation of the vehicle as opposed to trying to maintain the activities going on inside the bus.”

Wilkins said these incidents have prompted his company to send a letter to parents.

The Department of Education is aware of the issue, said spokesperson Kim Foster.

Foster identified six reported incidents. However, Wilkins said he believes that number is likely much higher because drivers don’t always want to go through the process of filing reports.

The Department of Education deals with these incidents on a case-by-case basis, Foster said.

R.L. Hanson Construction can report incidents to the school, and the two sides discuss possible disciplinary action.

“Behaviour is addressed via a conversation with the student and family member and, if warranted, the student loses bus privileges for the time being,” Foster said.

“When it is more of a whole bus issue, all students are addressed at the same time to remind them of expectations.”

Wilkins mentioned that some students have been suspended from bus services for days, weeks or months at a time.

Bus drivers won’t kick a student off the bus, he said, but they often have to stop driving until the behaviour cools down. When that happens, the students and drivers might be late getting where they need to go.

Wilkins said that as far as he’s aware, there haven’t been any incidents that have required RCMP intervention.

A Nunavut RCMP spokesperson said in an email that they are not aware of any incidents on school buses police have had to respond to.

Riding the bus is a privilege, Wilkins said. When kids lose that privilege, parents are forced to find new arrangements to get their kids to school.

“Everybody thinks their kid can do no wrong, but as parents, we have to understand that when they’re out of our sight, sometimes they can get a little unruly,” he said.

Giles, with the school authority, said she wants the community to come together to resolve the issue. She and staff from R.L. Hanson Construction are planning to host a radio discussion about how to prevent violence on school buses. Details for this have not yet been confirmed, she said.

Ultimately, Giles said she hopes the conversation will lead to a better outcome for everyone, including bus staff, parents and kids – especially for the kids who are not causing trouble.

“We are so good at coming together and making good things happen and, you know, I have such faith in this community, and I really think that we, together, can fix this issue,” Giles said.

“I really hope that parents take my advice to heart and have a word with their children.”

By Jeff Pelletier, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Mar 18, 2024 at 12:27

This item reprinted with permission from   Nunatsiaq News   Iqaluit, Nunavut
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