Premier, education minister defend Ontario's back-to-school busing plan

Some school bus drivers say they have not received COVID-19 safety protocols with just weeks to go before the start of class.

Ford says province will 'expedite' licences for new bus drivers amid shortage concerns

Some school bus drivers say they have not received detailed COVID-19 safety protocols with just weeks to go before the start of class. (Bert Savard/CBC)

Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce are defending the province's preparations for student transportation this fall.

Some school bus drivers say they have not received COVID-19 safety protocols with just weeks to go before the start of class.

Others told CBC Toronto earlier this month that they are unsure if they'll return to work at all, given concerns about crowded buses with insufficient physical distancing. 

At his daily COVID-19 briefing on Tuesday, Ford said that bus driver shortages are something the province deals with "every single year."

Ford said the province will expedite all the first-time bus drivers who are waiting to go through the Ministry of Transportation for licensing. 

Lecce added that the province is investing $1 billion in transportation this year, which he called "highest investment in transportation in Ontario history."

Union demands more safety steps 

The bus drivers, who are represented by Unifor, held a press conference Tuesday to discuss their request for information on safety measures on their vehicles.

They also are asking the government to do more to protect drivers, including hiring private companies to clean and sanitize vehicles. 

"We have a lot of elderly drivers that are now required to do a lot of physical work to clean and sanitize the buses and that's going to be very difficult for some of the drivers to do," said school bus driver Angela Sargeant. 

Lecce was asked today why he hasn't met with Unifor yet to discuss the needs of school bus drivers.

He responded that he's been in "constant contact" with the School Bus Association of Ontario — an association that represents school bus companies, not the drivers themselves.

TDSB writes open letter asking for more funding

The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) released an open letter Tuesday asking the province for more money to hire teachers and repair and upgrade classrooms and washrooms. 

The board also requested that the government follow through on its commitment to pay for PPE, and step up to help ensure the new COVID-19 protocols don't negatively affect the TDSB's nutrition programs. 

In his response, Lecce touted the money already on the table, including an extra $50 million announced by the province earlier this month to pay for classroom ventilation upgrades

He said the province is encouraging outdoor education — another one of the TDSB's requests — and will also foot the bill for PPE, saying that "we have been very clear we will be there." 

Ontario released a school reopening plan weeks ago that will see students return to class in early September.

School boards have been given permission to stagger the start of classes over the first two weeks of the academic year if they need more time to prepare.

Teachers' unions and parents have expressed concern that the Ontario government's approach has not done enough to lower class sizes and encourage physical distancing.

Ford announces new Etobicoke school, defends back-to-school ads 

Also today, Ford announced that a new Catholic school will be built in Etobicoke. 

"This new school will serve up to 600 kids," said Ford. "The project will also create 88 new affordable child-care spaces." 

The project will cost just under $16 million, part of a 10-year, $12 billion dollar provincial investment in new and existing schools, the province said.

On Tuesday, the premier also found himself defending a series of provincial back-to-school ads, which have been criticized by Ontario New Democrats and Liberals, who argue the money could be better spent elsewhere. 

100 cases of COVID-19 announced Tuesday

Ontario reported another 100 confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, bringing the province's total to 41,607 since the outbreak began in January. 

The 0.2 per cent increase in cumulative cases across Ontario comes as the province's network of labs processed more than 20,000 tests yesterday, Health Minister Christine Elliott said in a series of tweets.

Ontario reported another 100 cases of COVID-19 today, marking the fifth straight day with new cases in the triple digits. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Most of the province's 34 public health regions are keeping transmission rates of the novel coronavirus relatively low with 30 reporting five or fewer newly confirmed cases in today's update. Of those 30, 18 saw no new cases at all. 

There are currently 1,059 confirmed, active cases in the province, after 75 more were marked resolved in today's update. The majority active cases are concentrated in Peel, Toronto, and Ottawa.

Ontario's official COVID-19 death toll grew by two, and now sits at 2,800. A CBC News count based on data from public health units puts the real toll at 2,834.

There is one fewer person with a confirmed cases of the illness hospitalized since Sunday, but the number of patients on ventilators increased from seven to 10.

All of the figures used in this story are found in the Ministry of Health's daily update, which includes data from up until 4 p.m. the previous day.

The number of cases for any particular region on a given day may differ from what is reported by the local public health unit, which often avoid lag times in the provincial system.

With files from Ania Bessonov and The Canadian Press


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