Back to school: taking the bus

SCSTC plan includes masks, physical distancing, assigned seating, and more

The wheels on the bus will go round and round, shuttling students to school for the first time since March when in-class learning was halted because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Transportation for Simcoe County District School Board students is provided by the Simcoe County Student Transportation Consortium (SCSTC). It has worked with local school boards to develop a plan that involves physical distancing and enhanced cleaning protocols aboard the bus. The plan calls for students from the same family and the same classroom cohort to sit together where possible.

John Barbato, CEO and General Manager of the SCSTC, along with his team, have the task of steering the return to school by bus in the right direction. “For this year, specifically, we have had to work on ensuring we have the personal protective equipment for the bus drivers, updating some of the processes for bussing and assigning seats to students, all to follow ministry guidelines to reopening the schools,” said Barbato.

Capacity on a big bus, according to Barbato, is 70 students. The average was about 52 students per bus last year and Barbato expects about the same or a little bit less this year. “All the routes are different,” he said. “To support a full return to school, buses maybe near regular capacity. Where capacity permits, efforts will be made to space students throughout the bus and sit them with their siblings wherever we are able to do so.”

Students will be required to remain in an assigned seat while on the bus. Those in grades 4 to 12 will be required to wear a mask, and younger students are urged to do the same.

For students requiring specialized transportation, their parents or guardians are required to wear a mask or other face-covering while helping their child boarding or exiting the vehicle.

For new students and change requests this school year, it may take up to two weeks from the date of registration/request to co-ordinate transportation arrangements from home-to-school. These timeline updates are to accommodate the Ministry of Education and Public Health Unit’s requirement for accurate passenger manifests and assigned seating plans to support contact tracing. 

Should a student fall ill for any reason, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU) would move in. “We would be following the recommendations from the province about school outbreak management for COVID-19. This includes identifying and excluding the contacts,” said Medical Officer of Health Dr. Charles Gardner. “That would be if they’re on a school bus, those that they’re on the school bus with.”

Contact tracing would be conducted should a school bus operator fall ill as well.

School bus operators across the province have been provided guidelines from the Ontario Government on how to provide a safer transportation environment. Part of this guidance calls for establishing an effective means of reporting illness to the SMDHU.