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Are they overly protective?

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One of the Shamrock School parents asked me the night we met at a coffee shop out on Fermor, if I thought they were being over-protective.

Not since the pyjama pants ban have I had so many e-mails on a story.

To refresh your memories, Louis Riel School division has 29 schools with junior high grades which do not have their own shops. Students take Winnipeg Transit to attend shop at another school, one half-day every six school days.

Some parents at Shamrock School in Southdale are upset that the division is sending their kids in grades 7 and 8 to shop classes at Glenlawn Collegiate, an 18-minute transit bus ride away. LRSD does not require Shamrock School to send along an adult chaperone on the bus. The parents want the division to provide a school bus.

The division says LRSD and/or the province can’t possibly afford to build shops in all its schools. There is no provincial grant available for such transportation, and there is no money to provide a school bus door-to-door, and  the finite pool of school buses and drivers can’t be diverted to running kids back to their home schools.

Parents say that their kids have to get off at Glenlawn and go into a high school filled with older students. When they come out, they need to cross Fermor by tunnel to get on the transit bus back to Shamrock. Older students hang out in that tunnel, the parents say. Some of them smoke. One junior high kid had a cap taken. Some kids might miss the bus, and be separated from the safety of the group while waiting for the next bus.

One father said he fears what would happen if a child decided not to get off at Glenlawn, and instead stayed on the bus, skipped class, and went downtown.

I had to stifle a gasp --- who could imagine a kid choosing to do such a thing?

Did I think the parents had over-reacted?

We are talking Southdale here, a door-to-door bus to Glenlawn Collegiate.

But everyone’s comfort level is different.

I recall covering the closing of one-room Mason School a few years back, necessitating the transfer of a dozen or so rural kids into Morden. Yet the Mason parents talked of Morden as though their kids were being bused to downtown Detroit and set loose at 2 a.m. in a back alley.

And I remember when the kindergarten to Grade 3 E.L. Softley School closed, and a family told me it was trying to find a K-4 school to which they could drive their child. They didn’t want their child mixing in a school that included students in grades 5 and 6, because children that age swear, use drugs, carry weapons, and have sex. No, I’m not making that up.

Having a bunch of kids ride transit together seems like a way to teach them a little independence. Southdale and the corner on which Glenlawn sits (not to mention the neighbouring Y and the library) do not strike me as overly hazardous territory.

When my kids went into Grade 7, the cross country teams were expected to take transit to meets, some of them as far away as Kildonan Park. They survived. Child the younger was only 11 when she started Grade 7, and no one in the school ever bothered her, and that had nothing to do with having so many friends in the senior high school grades. Schools are pretty safe places, kids in senior high are generally civilized human beings, and teachers are attentive and caring.

I remember back in the day, in 1960, that I took the TTC to shop at another school in Grade 8, riding down Victoria Park Avenue to a school on the Scarberia side of the dividing line with North York, somewhere between St. Clair and the Danforth. I was safer on the TTC riding alone than I was in my own school.

As for shop class, the kids who attended that school never bothered me, but I remember the terror of some of the punks in my class threatening the smaller among us with soldering irons.

Hot soldering irons.

I also remember the teachers lining us up facing the wall after shop class and frisking us for stolen tools before letting us go out to the bus. They never found anything on us, because the punks had tossed the tools out the window, and retrieved them from the parking lot later. But I digress.

In a perfect world, every school would have its own shops. Or there would be a school bus with an adult monitor to deliver the kids to Glenlawn and see them safely to the shop class, then back again. And kids would be in a cocoon that protected them from all harm.

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About Nick Martin

Nick Martin is the old bearded guy at the back of the newsroom, the most experienced reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press, having started his career in Ontario in 1971.

He’s been covering education for the Free Press since the spring of 1997, after decades primarily covering municipal politics, including a four-year stint at the Ontario legislature for the London Free Press.

Nick moved to Manitoba in 1988 with his Winnipeg-born wife, who is a professor at the University of Manitoba. They have two kids, both of whom graduated from Grant Park High School: son Chris and daughter Gillian.

Nick has won a national journalism award from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, two Manitoba Human Rights Journalism awards, and the Ontario Reporters Association investigative award.

Nick is a long-distance runner, having finished and survived 18 marathons and 15 half-marathons and 30-kilometre races, and having (barely) survived 10 years as an outdoor and indoor soccer coach.

Nick became a soccer referee in 2007, delighting in his 60s in outrunning 16-year-olds and keeping his distance from obstreperous coaches and parents.

Nick and his wife have discovered a mutual love for kayaking at their Whiteshell cottage, and are both regulars at the Reh-Fit Centre. They hold season tickets to both the Manitoba Theatre Centre and the Warehouse, and as empty nesters, have rediscovered the joys of an active winter vacation.

A native of Jarrow-on-Tyne, England, Nick is a member of the Toon Army as a Newcastle United supporter, and a proud citizen of Leafs Nation.

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