While the Province has yet to officially announce whether students will physically return to schools in the Spring or winter, they may have to do so without transportation.
Unifor, Ontario’s leading school bus driver union, has announced urgent action is needed from the Province if school bus wheels are to turn next school year.
The union is calling on the Province to make the health and safety of students and school bus drivers a top priority as the Ontario government and school boards work to develop plans for students to return to physical classrooms.
“This situation must be addressed before there can be a return to school in September. A full re-opening, whether the provincial state of emergency is lifted or not, is at jeopardy,” Jerry Dias, national president for Unifor, said in a news release.
The union is concerned with Minister of Education Stephen Lecce’s minimal engagement with school bus drivers thus far.
“School bus drivers are critical to student transportation and doing it in a safe manner with new protocols in place is of the highest concerns for these workers,” Naureen Rizvi, Ontario regional director for Unifor, said in the same release.
The way school buses are intended to function—they’re intended to hold up to 72 students with only a single entrance and exit which is right next to the driver, and students expected to share seats—makes physical distancing very difficult.
Additionally, many drivers are retirees, which means they are part of a higher-risk group of people who could experience complications with the virus.
Further, Unifor is warning of a looming shortage without intervention by the Province due to the risk of fewer drivers returning, coupled with the fact physical distancing requirements could facilitate the need for additional buses and drivers.
“Unifor is asking these questions on behalf of our members and the thousands of non-union school bus drivers in the province,” Debbie Montgomery, president of Unifor Local 4268, said in the release.
“A serious discussion must be had with school bus drivers, as partners in education, about what September will look like and whether their safety will be prioritized,” she continued.