No walk home from school in Wakefield, Quebec

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by Trevor Greenway on September 3, 2009

Children in Wakefield, Quebec can no longer walk to and from school. If not riding the bus, they now have to get dropped off and picked up by parents, even if they are old enough to walk on their own and live a few minutes away.

Wakefield Elementary School has advised all parents and students that students are not allowed to walk up Caves Rd without being accompanied by a parent or guardian, as it is “unsafe” and “dangerous,” according to the school’s principal.

“It’s just not a safe road without a sidewalk or supervision,” said Rolla McIntosh, principal at the Wakefield Elementary School.

McIntosh said the main concern with Caves Rd. is that it’s steep, winding, and has no clear right of way for pedestrians. She added that if the road were in better shape, the kids would be permitted to walk the road on their own.

Students used to walk down School Rd., which meets River Rd right beside the Wakefield Manoir, but the owner of the private road, Richard Fortin of Fortin & Legault closed it to public use at the end the school year in June after witnessing some disrespectful behaviour by the kids.

According to Fortin, students had been horsing around in his parking lot, breaking branches, ripping down fences and racing skateboards down his hill, an activity for which he doesn’t want to be responsible. He feels that if there were better yard supervision at the school, he wouldn’t have had to close his road to students, but because of what he calls “laxism of yard supervision,” he was forced to take action.

“It’s these yard supervisors that were just so negligent,” he said.

“They were letting them climb trees, break branches and climb the fence.”

Fortin made several attempts to find a compromise with the school, but he has yet to hear back. He first contacted the assistant principal back in December of 2008, and now, more than six months later the problem still hasn’t been rectified.

Fortin feels that the Wakefield Elementary School and the Western Quebec School Board have been “passing the bucket” of responsibility back and forth, instead of just fixing the problem. He was told by the Wakefield Elementary School that once the kids leave the school grounds, they are no longer the responsibility of the school. He then spoke with the Western Quebec School Board, who told him that he would have to deal directly with the school’s principal.

“I have made enough phone calls,” said a fed-up Fortin, who recently installed a cement blockade at the top of his road, a blockade that numerous parents have been referring to as “The Berlin Wall.”

Diane Morey’s daughter Phoenix Luit is in Grade 6. Her mother describes her as an independent young woman who can take care of herself. Her daily routine used to entail walking to school in the morning, and then strolling down to her mom’s business, Café Molo, when the afternoon bell sounded. Now, Morey has to either pick her daughter up or put her on a bus for three or four blocks.

“I’m pretty bummed out about it, she loves walking down,” said Morey.

“I think it’s really important to have this problem rectified.”

Trail blazer to the rescue:

While the school board reps, principal and road owner have been wrangling with the issue road walking responsibility, one man has taken a taken a DIY attitude about the School Rd debacle.

After reading the initial story in the Low Down at the end of June and then hearing the CBC Radio story last week, Wakefield’s most famous trailblazer Ken Bouchard decided to find a solution.

The man responsible for rounding up volunteers to clear many of Wakefield’s walking trails got in touch with Fortin.

One solution that came out of their meeting was the creation of a walking trail parallel to School Rd. that will lead to River Rd. It seems like a great solution, but Bouchard is just waiting for permissions to get sorted out.

“We have to sort out land ownerships and right of way issues,” said Bouchard.

If the problem isn’t fixed soon, it means significant inconveniences for parents and students alike.

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