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Staffing shortages at bus company leaves some students stranded

Frustrated father says son ‘left stranded’ with school staff at school’
Staffing shortages have impacted some of First Student Canada routes. (File photo)

A staff shortage at First Student Canada is impacting 80 students that Surrey School District is aware of.

A school bus never picked Wes Hodson’s son from his elementary school after his first full day of school. “He was left stranded there with some school staff at school,” the frustrated father said.

Hodson’s son is a fourth-grade student at an elementary school near Sullivan Heights. He is non-verbal, has a rare genetic disorder and is in a wheelchair. Surrey schools has a contract with First Student Canada, which provides accessible bus services for students with diverse needs and abilities.

Hodson and his family lived near the school but moved to South Surrey. His son took the bus to school all last year.

On the morning of his first day, the boy was picked up by a wheelchair-accessible school bus. In the afternoon, Hodson received a call from the school saying the bus hadn’t picked him up. The school had not heard anything from First Student Canada, the bus company. They did not know when or if the bus would come.

The child had to wait at the school for over an hour before Hodson was able to go and pick him up.

Hodson eventually heard from the company, and it kept telling the family that the bus service would be delayed. The Hodsons have not had any bus service since the first week of school. The last they heard was last Monday (Sept. 19) that the bus service would be delayed until October, leaving Hodson to arrange transport for his son in the meantime. Some days, his education assistant takes him to school. Other days, his parents have to miss work to take him. Some days no one can take him, so he remains at home.

Hodson and his family moved to South Surrey but decided to keep their son at the same school. The father said that the school and the Surrey school district have been incredible. “They’ve done so much for (our son) over the years, and that is why were are fighting so hard to keep him there.”

Ritinder Matthew, the media liaison for Surrey Schools said the district is “aware of about 80 students that were affected by the contractor’s staffing challenges at the start of the school year.” Matthew said that First Student Canada confirmed with the school district last week that the routes that were previously impacted are now running as scheduled.

Jatinder Sandhu’s daughter is another one of those 80 students. She is in a wheelchair and needs an accessible school bus to get to school every day. First Student Canada told Sandhu it could not pick her up because of a staff shortage. They asked that Sandhu either provide his own transportation for his daughter or the bus could pick her up at 9:45 a.m.

This would cause her to miss the first two blocks of the school, as she would not arrive until after 10 a.m.

Sandhu said that in past years they had had minimal issues with First Student Canada. It usually takes them the first week or two of school to get the pickup time sorted, but after that, it is normally fine, he said. But this year is different – his daughter has not been picked up once. He noted that communication with First Student has been “atrocious.”

The Now-Leader has attempted to reach out to First Student Canada for comment.

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Anna Burns

About the Author: Anna Burns

I started with Black Press Media in the fall of 2022 as a multimedia journalist after finishing my practicum at the Surrey Now-Leader.
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