Windsor

Parents want assurance Windsor-Essex school bus drivers with mask exemptions are following rules

Some parents in Windsor-Essex say they are concerned their children are potentially at risk because their school bus driver, who has a mask exemption, may not be following COVID-19 safety protocols.

Student Transportation Services has a number of rules in place that drivers must follow

Sandipan Haldar, left, and Ropa Tharuvai want the most protection for their children, who are younger than 12 and aren't eligible to be vaccinated, as they ride the school bus. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC)

Some parents in Windsor-Essex say they are concerned their children are potentially at risk because their school bus driver, who has a mask exemption, may not be following COVID-19 safety protocols.

Five drivers in the southwestern Ontario region have a mask exemption, according to Student Transportation Services. Like all drivers, though, they're still required to wear a face shield when children get on and off the bus. 

Windsor parent Sandipan Haldar is worried that this school year, he has not seen the driver who picks up his 10-year-old wearing a shield.

"This is a big safety concern for not only my child, but for all the children who are travelling on the bus," Haldar said. 

"There should be other ways to protect the children, like the driver can put on a face shield." 

Ropa Tharuvai, whose 10-year-old rides the same school bus, said Tuesday she heard from another parent that they saw the driver put a face shield on while the children were getting off the bus. 

Gabrielle McMillan, general manager of Student Transportation Services, says she understands parental concerns, and notes the bus is a risk because of the small space, but they are doing all they can to protect students. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC)

"I am a concerned parent, I get anxious when I put my child, who is unvaccinated, on the bus," Tharuvai said. "This is going to have an impact and we are seeing the numbers go up ... we want our children to keep going to school." 

Student Transportation Services general manager Gabrielle McMillan told CBC News Wednesday that since talking to CBC News Tuesday, she became aware of the case and notified the manager of the bus company, Student First. 

"The manager's aware and is doing periodic checks to make sure [the driver is] following the rules and if he's not then he will be dealt with based on what goes on between the employer and the employee," McMillan said. 

She says this is the only complaint she is aware of, but encourages parents to call her office to leave a message if they have concerns about drivers. 

Both parents say they don't mind the driver has a medical mask exemption, but want to see the public school board and Student Transportation Services address their concerns. They say if a face shield is not an option for a driver, then possibly Plexiglas barriers would be a suitable alternative. 

Earlier in the week, McMillan said all drivers must follow these rules: 

  • Unvaccinated employees must get a rapid COVID-19 test twice weekly.
  • Windows are encouraged to be down. 
  • Face shields are asked to be worn by all drivers when students are getting on or off the bus. 
  • The bus is sanitized by drivers and goes through a deep cleaning overnight. 

She added that drivers don't get out of their seats or walk the aisles and minimally interact with students.

Barriers suggested as an option

Haldar said he doesn't understand why Transit Windsor buses can have barriers and school buses can't. He added that the board doesn't have to put barriers on all the buses, just the ones in which drivers can't wear masks or face shields. 

But the Ontario Ministry of Transportation said school buses cannot be retrofitted with barriers.

Student Transportation Services says about five of nearly 500 drivers have medical mask exemptions. They have provided all drivers with face shields to wear while students are getting on and off the bus. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC)

"The Ministry of Transportation does not support installation of any sort of barrier that is not aligned to safety standards, which are developed based on safety testing for issues such as access/egress of the vehicle and on-road safety in the event of a collision," a ministry spokesperson wrote in a statement. 

McMillian acknowledges that a school bus is smaller than a classroom and only allows for so much physical distancing. 

"Every parent's got to make a determination of how much risk they're willing to put their child at."

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said parents wanted to see Plexiglas installed on buses as an additional safety measure. In fact, they said Plexiglas is an option, only if a driver is unable to follow all other protocols.
    Sep 15, 2021 6:12 PM ET

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