TIMMINS — As students get ready to head back to school next week, a union rep is warning parents to have a contingency plan in case buses don't run.
For busing, Timmins MPP Gilles Bisson said the main issue is money; more is needed to run the number of buses to safely distance children.
He said it's very problematic that the government isn't adequately funding school boards to safely operate transportation.
“And there’s a lot of parents that are worried and I don’t blame them, I would be worried too,” he said.
Earlier today, Porcupine Health Unit medical officer of health Dr. Lianne Catton supported the Ministry of Education's recommendations for busing.
On the bus, she said there will be hand sanitization. When there can't be one child per seat, there may be opportunities to sit with a sibling, a class cohort, or at least a child from the same school.
Cohorts in schools are to limit the number of classmates or teachers a student is exposed to everyday. Ministry guidelines allow for a maximum of 50 for elementary students, and a maximum of 100 for secondary school students.
Getting children safely to and from school remains a concern.
The staggered re-entry for students at District School Board Ontario North East (DSB1) was postponed earlier this week, with the board citing personal protective equipment (PPE) and a school bus driver shortage as reasons for the delay.
On a good day, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union representative John Beaton said there is a shortage of bus drivers.
“Adding a pandemic and no social distancing and everything’s being rushed through at the 11th hour here, it causes an even bigger problem to maintain adequate staffing,” said Beaton.
He said a lot of the drivers are elderly, who may be at risk to catch COVID-19.
“We feel the whole plan has been kind of rushed through without being fully thought out and I know the provincial government has been talking about cohorts in the school and having staggered recesses within your cohort but that seems to go out the window when you’re cramming 72 kids into a bus together,” said Beaton, adding there can be students from up to four schools on one bus.
With the first day of school four days away, he said some bus lines don't have all their PPE yet.
He said members will have to decide whether they feel safe or not.
For parents, he suggests being "ready if buses don’t show up on Tuesday, have a contingency plan. I would also suggest in today’s society masks are recommended, encourage your children to wear masks."
Linda Lefebvre is a local bus monitor and worried about safety, and children keeping their masks on.
“We can’t enforce it, so if mom at the door says Johnny’s not wearing his mask, it’s like come on in and we write a report," she said.
If PPE supplies aren't in by Tuesday, she said buses won't be going.
Bisson is calling on the provincial government to do the right thing.
“There’s no amount of money that is too much in order to make our children safe, and this is going to take dollars. The province has to give the money to the school boards to properly fund them so that they can have less people on the buses and smaller class sizes so we can make our children safe,” he said.
While getting groceries, he noted there are social distancing practises to follow.
"But yet we’re going to allow buses to run at full capacity in order to transport kids to and from school,” he said.