Public and private schools are demanding that masks be worn on school buses where physical distancing is difficult, which would prevent thousands of students from being deprived of transportation when school starts this fall.
• Read also: The mask will be mandatory in public transport
Quebec will announce Tuesday that the mask will soon be mandatory in public transport. However, this new measure should also influence school transportation.
The back-to-class scenario released in mid-June provides for a physical distance of one meter between students, allowing one child to sit on a bench on school buses.
In several buses carrying elementary school students, up to three children could be seated on each bench, so that the number of students transported will drop from 72 to 23 this fall, for a capacity of 32%.
“What we are waiting for is to make the mask mandatory and to allow us to drop the meter away. With two students per bench, that would allow us to transport 85% of our clientele, ”said Jean-François Houle, director of school transportation at the Navigateurs school service center, on the South Shore of Quebec.
The demand is the same from the Quebec Federation of Educational Institutions (FQDE). “We just ask for the same rules as in public transport,” argues its president, Nicolas Prévost.
The organization of school transportation represents “the major pitfall” facing the school network for the start of the new school year, he added.
The Federation of Private Educational Institutions even considers that the rules in place will put young people at risk even more, since more of them will take public transportation.
“If half of our students cannot take school transport, they will fall back on public transport, where there will be even less control over their behavior and where it will be even more difficult to trace contacts.” there were cases of infection, “says its president, David Bowles.
In Longueuil, where the establishment run by Mr. Bowles is located, it is estimated that 2,000 private students will have to take public transit this fall, not counting those of the public. “We don’t understand at all, there is an inconsistency,” he adds.
The Federation of School Service Centers reports that the current health regulations pose “a huge logistical challenge”. Some service centers will have to reduce their school transportation offer this fall (see box).
Some students will no longer be able to be transported by bus, while others will have to leave the house earlier and return later, since trips will have to be added.
In the office of the Minister of Education, Jean-François Roberge, it is said to be in “constant contact” with the public health authorities “in order to see if any relaxation is possible”.
“We expect a positive response to this effect from them, given the improvement in the overall epidemiological situation.”
Comments on the matter could not be received from the Ministry of Health on Monday.
For its part, the school network hopes for a quick response, if more flexibility were to be decreed.
“If the parameters change, you should not know this in mid-August, because we will not be able to be ready for the start of the school year. Usually, it takes us three months to organize school transportation, ”says Jérôme L’Heureux, school transportation manager at the Center de services scolaire de la Beauce-Etchemin, where 13,600 students from 55 municipalities usually board yellow buses every day.
– With the collaboration of Geneviève Lajoie
Changes envisioned in school transportation this fall to meet the health guidelines released in mid-June:
Première-Seigneuries School Service Center
- First departure at 6.30am rather than 7am for primary school students.
- Return at the end of the day at 6 p.m. for high school students.
- No school transport for lunch.
Beauce-Etchemin School Service Center
- No school transport for students located near the school:
- 1.6 km for those in elementary school.
- 2 km away for those in secondary school.
- Scheduled changes envisaged to allow multiple journeys.
Navigators School Service Center
- In the case of shared custody, only one address may be served.
- Students who are not enrolled in school in their neighborhood will not have access to school transportation.