On behalf of the over 2,500 Ontario school bus drivers represented by Unifor, we are asking that the provincial government take immediate action in developing a comprehensive plan to protect the health and safety of school bus drivers and students when schools reopen this September.
The government recently announced the allocation of $40M to go towards the cleaning and sanitation of school buses and the purchase of personal protective equipment (PPE) for drivers across Ontario. We must ensure this money is used exactly for this purpose and that it is not simply funneled into the hands of private student transportation without transparency and accountability mechanisms in place.
Unifor’s key demands include:
- Properly mandate the use of facemasks, shields, gloves and gowns and ensure that all bus operators provide drivers with proper personal protective equipment to protect both workers and passengers.
- Treat buses like any other confined space and limit the number of students per route to ensure proper social distancing. School buses cannot be loaded with 74 students (as one driver’s September 2020 manifest route log revealed). This is both risky and unacceptable.
- Provide extra government funding to support driver hiring and retention to increase the number of buses and routes, as well as additional resources such as paid adult school bus monitors to assist drivers that transport younger children or students with extra needs.
- Students must be mandated to wear masks at all time inside the bus for self-protection and the protection of others.
- Buses need to be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized at the end of each run. This must be done by professionally trained cleaners. Drivers must not be tasked with this job or have this included as part of their normal duties.
Many teachers, parents and students alike are concerned about what September will look like and how a return to school will unfold in a pandemic era. To date, the Ontario government’s plans have provided little reassurance. Student transportation cannot be the weak link in chain that causes a failure or outbreak.
The return to school can be done safely with all stakeholders doing their part and the proper plans and resources put into place.