MANITOULIN – When school resumes in September, students will be facing many changes to their daily lives, including the ways they travel to and from school.
Rainbow District School Board (RDSB) students take buses that are overseen by the Sudbury Student Services Consortium (SSSC). According to Renee Boucher, SSSC executive director, RDSB students in Grades 4 through 12 will be required to wear a mask or face covering when on the bus. Drivers will also be required to wear masks or face coverings as well as face shields that will be lowered when students are boarding and unboarding their bus.
For children in Junior Kindergarten to Grade 3, parents are encouraged to help those children put on masks for boarding and unboarding, noting that many bus drivers would be considered vulnerable to COVID-19.
“The seat directly behind the driver will remain empty as well,” Ms. Boucher continued, noting that the seat may be used by small children from the driver’s family should they need to take their child to work. All other passengers must not sit in that area.
“We need to have assigned seating,” Ms. Boucher added, explaining that siblings or members of the same household will be seated together for the school year.
The students who are first on the bus route will head directly to the back of the bus and with each subsequent stop, the students will fill the bus from the back to the front, the executive director said. “Students will go straight to their seats and sit down. Attendance will be taken in case the need for contact tracing arises.”
Ms. Boucher said that a new application for attendance has just been purchased by the SSSC, but the consortium has not worked out the details just yet as to who will be responsible for taking the attendance, be it the bus driver or the school.
Ms. Boucher said the consortium has been given the go-ahead by public health to load the buses at their normal capacity, but there will be an increase in cleaning—twice a day. For those buses with a reduced load where spacing can be accomodated, students will be placed in an every-other-seat pattern.
Parents must opt their children in to being bused and can do so by visiting BusInfo.ca and clicking on the parent portal. They will be asked to opt in or opt out and must provide their child’s Ontario Education Number (OEN), which can be found on any report card. Students in Junior Kindergarten will not yet have an OEN but parents of those students will already have been contacted by the SSSC.
Ms. Boucher explained that parents can opt their child in or out at any time during the school year. It is through the parent portal that, closer to the start of the school year, parents will receive their child’s assigned seating.
“We thank the parents for their patience,” Ms. Boucher said. “This is new for everyone.”
Ms. Boucher asked that parents speak to their children in the lead-up to the first day of school about this new era of bus etiquette. “Parents need to help the driver out and encourage children to follow the rules,” she added.
The Expositor contacted Guy Morin, education director for M’Chigeeng First Nation, who explained that a transportation plan is presently in development, but not available as yet.
The Wiikwemkoong Board of Education is encouraging parents to drive their children to school, but is offering bus services at half capacity. For more information on the SSSC, visit BusInfo.ca.