Kids taking a school bus this fall? Here's what you need to know
Parents have until Friday, Aug. 14 to register their children for bus service
If we've learned anything in the last few months, it's that nothing will be like it was before the COVID-19 pandemic, and that includes the way children ride the bus to and from school.
Gone are the days of kids sitting next to their best friend and turning around in their seats to speak to a classmate.
Instead, kids will have to conform to a strict seating chart, they'll have to face forward the entire ride and they might even have to walk a few extra blocks to get to their bus stop — all in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
"We recognize that the decision to put kids back on the bus will be deeply personal for our families and we want them to have confidence that we've taken adequate preparatory measures to make sure that their students will be welcomed and that it will be a safe environment," said Maureen Cosyn Heath, the chief administrative officer with Southwestern Ontario Student Transportation, during a school board presentation on Wednesday.
Southwestern Ontario Student Transportation Services serves almost 100,000 students enrolled in schools across the Thames Valley District School Board and the London District Catholic School Board. About half of those students are eligible for bus service, and according to Cosyn Heath, 29,000 of them have already been registered for busing for the upcoming school year.
Parents in London, Woodstock, St. Thomas and in Elgin, Middlesex and Oxford counties have until Friday Aug. 14 to register their children for a coveted spot on the bus.
Strict physical distancing of two metres isn't possible on school buses, said Cosyn Heath, so Student Transportation Services has come up with a plan that outlines other tools that it will use to mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19.
The windows on the vehicles will be kept open, weather permitting, to support increased ventilation and hand sanitizer will be available on vehicles.
All buses and minivans will undergo additional cleaning measures. Vehicles will be cleaned between morning and afternoon routes and in-between runs and high-touch areas like the handrail will be treated with disinfectant.
Here's a rundown of what other changes students and parents can expect as they roll into school.
Buses across the region will accommodate about 46 students, meaning two per seat or fewer whenever possible. The number of students assigned to a bus will be higher in city runs compared to country and specialty program runs where children are in the vehicle for longer periods of time.
Assuming each rider sits properly in the aisle seat and window seat, Student Transportation Services says there would be approximately 30 centimeters of space between riders.
Schools across the region have been asked to make a seating plan, which will be organized by grade and by cohort to allow for schools to develop proper arrival and departure protocols, which include:
- Seat numbering systems, organized by Student Transportation Services.
- Siblings from the same household will be seated together, regardless of grade differences,
- Attendance on the bus won't be taken, but the seating chart will be given to health units for contact tracing purposes.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Bus drivers will be given two masks each day and a reusable face shield. They will also be equipped with disinfectant and hand sanitizer. Other changes include:
- Mandatory masks for children in grades 4-12, as per Ministry of Education guidelines.
- Student Transportation Services is encouraging children in kindergarten to Grade 3 to also wear a mask.
- Parents and guardians who need to assist any student with special needs will be asked to wear a mask.
- Student Transportation Services is reviewing PPE policies with contractors as bus drivers and attendants who assist students with special transportation needs may need to access additional PPE, such as gowns, gloves and goggles.
Bus stop locations
This year, students and parents may find that their walk to and from the bus stop may be a little longer. Student Transportation Services said that is partly to encourage physical activity but also to make bus rides shorter. The less time kids are in close contact with each other, the lower the risk of spreading an infection. Other protocols include:
- Physical distancing at school bus stops, which will be the responsibility of the children and parents or caregivers who walk them to the stop.
- Masks are expected to be worn at bus stops.
- If a student is not feeling well, they should not be sent to the bus stop or to school.
Kids expected to be on best behaviour
Cosyn Heath said student behaviour on the bus is vital in order to keep both children and drivers safe.
"While bus behaviour has always been important, it is even more important when we're dealing with a matter of public health," she said, adding that students are expected to behave the same way they would in a classroom. That means:
- On board, students should remain seated, facing forward and in their seats for the entire ride.
- Students who aren't willing to behave on the bus may lose transportation for the safety of other students.
- No eating or drinking is allowed on the bus and children should remove any personal garbage when they get off the bus.
Parents to play integral role in successful busing
Cosyn Heath said perhaps one of the most important factors in keeping everyone safe, will be the cooperation of parents during this time.
"We need [parents and guardians] to educate and reinforce the core activities of busridership, which is getting to and from the stop, getting on and off the bus, and how to be a safe and, in the matter of public health, an appropriate bus rider."
- Parents and guardians will be responsible for conducting daily health checks before sending their children on the bus. Students who develop symptoms of COVID-19 are being asked to not get on the bus and they will be sent home from school without transportation if they become symptomatic at school.
- Parents should encourage children to wash their hands before and after boarding the bus and provide them with their own hand sanitizer.
To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.
By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.
Become a CBC Account Holder
Join the conversation Create account
Already have an account?