Walking to School: A Radical, Dangerous Idea

I kicked off a really glorious Wednesday of wandering around the city at 8:30 this morning by taking my daughter out to join the Walking Schoolbus.

The event was put together by Carla Beck and others through the Real Renewal group. It was a dry run at something they're hoping will take off this September. Basically, the idea is that kids will get together in the morning with some chaperons and walk to school together, gathering more and more kids along the way. Going to school in a big group is a way to mitigate all those nasty parts of walking there that parents fret over -- cars being the primary threat.

And, there are other benefits, like keeping kids active and fostering a local community. Plus, it can reduce the number of cars needed to shuttle students to and from school.

The kickoff event this morning was a big success. Over 70 kids and parents showed up to make the trek from the Holy Rosary playground to Connaught school. And some of the local media made it out too. Didn't hurt that it was just about perfect weather for it.

You'd think this would be the kind of progressive, feel-good, cost-them-nothing kind of idea our public school board would be getting behind. Promoting even.

Sadly, no.

According to Beck, she was advised that for "liability issues" Regina Public Schools could not get behind or promote the Walking Schoolbus.

In fact, Beck mentioned that she was contacted on Monday by Regina Public Schools director, Don Holum. In what she described as a cordial conversation, he told her how he supported the "idea" of kids walking to school but that so much has changed in the last 50 years that he couldn't support the Walking Schoolbus. He cautioned her about liability issues and suggested that she didn't know what she was opening herself up to liabilitywise.

Beck counters by pointing out that the Walking Schoolbus is hardly a radical idea.

"I didn't make this up," she says. "It's well established around the world."

She notes that organizations across Canada are supporting Walking Schoolbuses in their communities. Organizations such as Safe Kids Canada, the government of Manitoba and the city of Saskatoon.

Of course, one has to wonder if there isn't more to RPS's opposition to the Walking Schoolbus than mere concern for student safety on the wild and wooly streets of Cathedral. The event was organized through Real Renewal, afterall. They're the group organizing against the school board's 10 year plan. And RPS are noted boosters of that 10-year plan.

I asked Carla Beck if the Walking Schoolbus was something of a polite protest against the plan. She replied, "It is."

While she notes it's an idea she's been intrigued by for years (and she thinks she first read about it in Today's Parent magazine), she says, "What solidified the need in my mind to start [a Walking Schoolbus] here as a broader movement was what I heard around the board’s 10-year plan and community response to it."

She says that her children go to Connaught School where they're enrolled in French immersion. if the board's plan comes to fruition, they'll be bused to Massey, a forty minute ride.

And, she notes, the goal of the plan is that at the end of its 10 years, 46 per cent of elementary school kids will be bused to school.

It's an alarming idea if you're one of those people like me who believes in the considerable benefits of walkable communities. And thanks to legitimate concerns over global warming, energy scarcity and peak oil, making communities more walkable is a cornerstone of most city and neighbourhood plans these days. (Take our own Downtown and Core Neighbourhood Plans for instance.)

Keeping schools small, numerous and one of the central features of communities is essential to making neighbourhoods pedestrian friendly.

It's a no brainer, then, that building a school plan around the idea of shipping kids out of their communities is short-sighted and half-baked.

But the public school board seems hell-bent on getting their 10-year plan through. No big surprise then that they wouldn't be big fans of the Walking Schoolbus. As one parent I was speaking to during the walk pointed out, if you have a bunch of people organizing around the idea of walking their kids to school and then you try to get rid of their school, you have a group of people already mobilized against you.

"It was trippy," says Beck, "at last night's Scott [Collegiate] meeting, [Trustee] Russ Marchuk was saying if the horse is dead get off. Well, excepting [Trustee and prairie dog columnist] John Conway, the dead horse they’re riding is not the small school model it's this 10-year plan."

"I think the only way to stop them," she concludes, "is to change the board."

And October 28, Regina will get a chance to do just that.

Last thoughts on the cabinet shuffle

Probably the best way to look at Brad Wall’s recent cabinet shuffle (Government of Saskatchewan) is to put it in context of the NDP leadership race. Wall thinks (correctly,) that Dwain Lingenfelter is going to win in a walk, so Wall prepared a wartime cabinet.

That’s the main reason why Wall has removed three people (Sask. Party website) who (for Sask. Party politicians, anyway) were doing not that bad a job, and replaced them with three hard-core ideologues (Sask Party website). Wall is expecting that the next months in the Legislature will resemble trench warfare in the First World War – massive expenditures of manpower, time, money and effort for little or no gain.

Then again, I’m sure Wall would rather see Link as NDP leader than anybody else, for the same reason why the Pentagon would rather fight a conventional war than a war of counter-insurgency. It’s what they know; it’s what they think they’re good at.

As for the other factors? Surprised that former Regina city councilor Bill Hutchinson was dispatched to Indian and Métis Relations: in Wall’s philosophy, that’s a dead-end job. I didn’t think he was doing that bad in Municipal Affairs. Christine Tell was a low-level screwup at Tourism, Parks, Culture and Sport, so I was kind of surprised that she stayed in cabinet, instead of replacing her with say, Laura Ross. Daryl Hickie botched Corrections so badly that Wall should have grabbed him by his ears, stuck a handful of stamps to his keister and mail him home to his mama. His replacement (who thanks to spell-check and to the fact I won’t trust my eyesight totally until I get my new spectacles, I will refer to here as “The Yogic Flier”) campaigned in the late 1990s on bring in boot camps, so the Sask. Party’s knuckle-dragging camp won’t be totally dissatisfied by Wall’s increasingly metro-sexual dress up façade.

But Saskatchewan’s political power base has shifted: the further you get away from Swift Current, the further you’re getting away from power. As well, The Jurist (Accidental Deliberations) has a good analysis about what the shuffle means for Wall’s campaign for a SaskaNuke.

(Yes, I know. It's late. And conflict between MS Word and Internet Explorer that refused to allow me to cut-and-paste from Wod really frost my buns, kids ...)