Montreal

Quebec City parents left scrambling as kids deemed ineligible for school bus transport

Under the province's new back-to-school rules, a limited number of children can ride a school bus and still be appropriately distanced.

Under the province's new back-to-school rules, fewer children can ride a school bus at one time

Many students who took the bus to get to school last year won't be able to this fall because of COVID-19 restrictions on how many students can be in a bus at the same time. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Julie ​Robitaille​ has two children who attend school in Quebec City, but this year, only one of them has been deemed eligible to take the school bus.

Under the province's new back-to-school rules, a limited number of children can ride a school bus at one time, in order for them to be appropriately distanced.

Robitaille​'s son, who has autism, is going to be bused to his high school, but her five-year-old daughter is on her own.

"I don't know who has access to the bus this year if my daughter doesn't," Robitaille​ told CBC.

Her daughter's school is almost two kilometres from their home in the Lebourgneuf neighbourhood, and the five-year-old is far too young to walk, bike or take public transit alone.

When the Centre de services scolaires de la Capitale told parents that not all students would be able to take the bus, it issued a list of criteria for how decisions would be made, based on certain priorities.

The list prioritized students with special needs, kids who live in high traffic zones where it's dangerous to walk, younger students, and those who live farther away from school.

Robitaille said in order for her son to get to school, the service centre is sending the bus to do two rounds, which means he'll be picked up an hour later than normal.

She wondered why the same couldn't be done for her daughter and hundreds of other kids in the same situation.

In order to accommodate her son being picked up later and her daughter having no transport, Robitaille will likely have to arrange with her employer to start late. This isn't an ideal solution, she said.

"If I start later, I end later, so we have another problem at the end of the day."

Camille Hamonic's five-year-old won't have a seat on the school bus this fall. Now the Quebec City mother wants an explanation from the school service centre. (Radio-Canada)

Camille Hamonic also has a child starting kindergarten and told CBC her child was also left without a seat on the bus.

She wonders why more buses can't make multiple trips.

"Why is it working in other school boards?" she said.

Hamonic has been trying to get in touch with the La Capitale service centre but says her calls have gone unanswered.

She said she wants to know why her child didn't make the cut.

'Inevitable' lack of spots

Pierre Lapointe, director of the service centre, said last year, they could fit as many as 72 students into one school bus.

"On June 30, we learned from public health the rule is now 48 students per school bus," he said. "So inevitably we have a lack of spaces."

The service centre contacted parents and asked them to start making alternative plans.

He said many responded that they could find another way to get their children to school, but about 1,000 remain who didn't make the cut for the school bus criteria and have no way to get to school.

Lapointe said they are working to resolve these cases, including trying to add buses to the network.

"We are working to add buses in some hot zones where we have a lot of demand," he said. He added, however, that some companies have extra buses but no drivers.

The president of the local bus drivers' union, Hélène Thibault, told Radio-Canada that the problem could be solved if Public Health mandated all kids to wear a mask on the bus.

Right now, mandatory masks are only for kids aged 10 and up.

"If all the kids were wearing a mask, I'm convinced we wouldn't have any problems on the school buses," said Thibault. "We would be able to fill our buses to capacity like before."

With files from Josh Grant and Radio-Canada

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