COVID-19 top of mind as school buses are ready to roll in Simcoe County

Assigned seating, masks, face shields will be the new normal

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

The launch of a new school year is always hectic but toss in a pandemic and enhanced safety protocols for students and bus drivers, this becomes a whole new ball game.

John Barbato, CEO and General Manager of the Simcoe County Student Transportation Consortium, 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.

Despite reports from some parts of Ontario of a school bus driver shortage, the information operators are providing to Barbato is there are drivers for all the routes.

“When you arrive at the bus, drivers will be wearing masks and face shields,” said Barbato. “Students in Grades 4 to 12 will be required to wear masks on the bus and those in kindergarten to grade 3 will be encouraged to wear a mask on the bus.”

There will be assigned seating for students this year.

“All the routes are different,” said Barbato. “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.”

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.

“Capacity varies by route. The ministry’s guide to reopening schools identifies that bus utilization may operate closer to capacity to support a full return to school.”

The Simcoe County Student Transportation Consortium operates 720 school vehicles and transports up to 36,000 students annually.