School bus guidelines making some Ontario drivers, parents nervous
TORONTO -- How students will be transported to school in September is causing anxiety among parents and school bus drivers in Ontario.
To support the return to classes, the Ontario government’s guidelines indicate that school boards may be required to operate closer to capacity and have more than one student per seat.
Large buses can seat up to 72 students.
”It’s not going to be the same. I mean, it’s going to be fun on the school bus, but it’s going to be hard,” said 10-year-old Aidan Cutler who will be taking the bus come the new school year.
Some parents are nervous about sending their kids to school on the bus. One mother told CTV News Toronto she hasn’t decided whether to send her child to school or take the bus. One father said he’ll be taking a wait see approach.
Other parents explained they are comfortable sending their kids on the school bus.
“I think it will be okay. I hope they are going to have a little more social distancing,” Christie Cutler said. “I’m going to encourage my younger son to wear a mask.”
“Kids are kids and they need to socialize. They need to keep going with their lives,” said Josseline Dominguez, who plans to send her three-year-old on the bus. “She’s been very good with always wearing a mask, when I wear it, she says me too.”
The government requires students in Grade 4 and up to wear non-medical masks and encourages younger children to also cover up on buses.
Officials said students should be assigned seats, with students from the same home or class seated together.
School bus drivers worried about exposure
Debbie Montgomery, president of the union representing about 1,300 school bus drivers across Ontario, said about 60 per cent of employees are over 60 years old and she knows of some drivers who don’t want to stay on the job.
“They’re worried about themselves, their passenger and their families,” Montgomery said.
“Our drivers are often doing six or seven different schools in a day, with mixed children, mixed ages, mixed classrooms. Tell me how that works.”
The province said windows should be open on school buses when feasible and enhanced funding to disinfect high-touch surfaces.
The guidelines show hand sanitizer should be available on buses and the seat behind the driver should be left empty.
Nancy Daigneault is the executive director of School Bus Ontario, an organization that represents the school bus companies that transport about 833, 000 students to and from school.
“The operators are really pleased actually. The $40 million for cleaning and sanitizing is going to go a long way in helping us make sure that students, and drivers and bus monitors are going back to school is a very healthy and safe environment."
Daigneault said drivers will also be getting masks, gloves, gowns and visors, which should make a difference.
In a statement to CTV News Toronto the Toronto District School Board said it’s integrating government guidelines into its transportation plan. Drivers and students are being asked to perform a self-assessment each morning and to wash their hands prior to leaving the house.
At the bus stop, students should remain physically distanced from others and all those able should wear masks.
High-touch surfaces on the bus will be disinfected twice daily between morning and afternoon runs.
A spokesperson said additional messaging will be going out closer to the start of school and material posted to the consortium website to keep parents updated.