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Northern Ont. bus drivers say they’re worried about back-to-school busing plan

School buses expected to run at capacity next week; bus drivers asking for limits
school-bus
(Supplied)

School bus drivers in Northern Ontario are saying they’re worried about Ontario’s back-to-school plan as it relates to busing, and ask that limits be put on the number of students allowed to ride on school buses.

Local 175 of the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) represents more than 240 school bus drivers and monitors in Northern Ontario, at Leuschen Bus Lines in Timmins and First Student Bus Lines in Sault Ste. Marie.

A press release from the union said under the Ford framework, school buses are expected to be at maximum capacity – with up to 72 children, plus the driver.

The bus drivers said many other concerns, from masking protocols to physical distancing, also haven’t been addressed by the plan, which they call “inadequate.” 

“Our members are worried,” said UFCW Local 175 President Shawn Haggerty, in the press release.

“The safety of every child and worker on school buses in Ontario is at stake and the plans put forth so far seem to be in opposition to the advice coming from public health agencies.”

UFCW Local 175 is calling on the government and relevant employers to take another look at return-to-school plans.

When it comes to busing children to and from school, every day, there must be limits on how many can safely ride a bus at one time while maintaining physical distancing, said the bus drivers.

There must be protocols for the use of masks on buses, and making sure that bus drivers and monitors have access to the necessary resources, said the press release. 

The plan must also include sustainable funding to address the need to hire more drivers to allow for more buses on more routes.

Linda Lefebvre is a Member of UFCW Local 175 who works as a school bus monitor in Timmins. 

“I love my job and the kids,” said Lefebvre. “I’m concerned about how we are all going to be safe. There can be over 70 kids on a bus at one time, right up against each other. If we’re supposed to social distance to stay safe, how can it be safe to be that close together twice a day, five times a week?” 

Adding to the concern is the fact that many school bus drivers are older people who have picked up the job later in life, said the press release. The medical community has asserted consistently that older demographics are more at risk from COVID-19 than others.

“I feel as though the plan from the government hasn’t been fully thought out,” said Don Siegwart who is a UFCW Local 175 member and driver from Sault Ste. Marie. 

“The employer is scrambling to figure out the plan, with only a short time to go, based on constantly changing advice from the government. I feel as though more could have been done to ensure as much safety as possible, like smaller class sizes and bus limits.”

“Our members who drive and monitor on school buses love the work they do and they care deeply about the health and welfare of every student in their care,” added Haggerty. 

“This situation is frustrating for everyone involved and it could have been avoided if the government had taken their responsibilities seriously. Ford had ample time to commit to finding solutions to keep our children and workers safe – and he failed. I would urge Doug Ford to take what time is left before the school year starts and show some true leadership. Our workers and our children deserve better.”