WINNIPEG — With only three weeks before the start of the new school year, some Manitoba families are scrambling to find ways just to get their kids to class.
School buses will be running at lower capacity due to public health measures and that means not everyone who needs a ride will be able to get one.
“Probably the biggest challenge might be the bussing just because of my husband’s and my schedule,” said parent Patricia Habermann.
Habermann lives in a rural area in the Interlake School Division and has a daughter going into grade eight, who usually takes the bus to get to school.
To support physical distancing, the province and several school divisions are encouraging parents to drive their kids or have them walk or bike to school.
Habermann said she’s prepared to drive her daughter if she has to but hopes the bus will be an option for her family.
“There’s a lot of parents that have to punch a clock at a certain time and are going to have to do a lot of juggling to get their kids to school,” said Habermann.
The Interlake School Division’s reopening plan calls for buses to run and to continue to pick up eligible students.
“But there are other divisions in this province, both rural and urban, that are having significant challenges with transportation,” said Alan Campbell, board chairperson for the Interlake School Division and president of the Manitoba School Boards Association.
Provincial guidelines recommend only one student per seat on buses, unless they’re sitting with someone from their own home or their in-school cohort. Masks are required for bus drivers and all students in grade 4 and up.
Campbell said organizing bus routes while keeping physical distancing in mind is making for massive challenges. He used the example of a group of grade eight students from one school all in the same cohort.
“It’s not feasible to just go out and pick up that cohort because that grade eight could live on a huge geographical area, especially in a rural division,” said Campbell. “And you’re still trying to maintain reasonable ride times.”
The River East Transcona School Division said in its reopening plan, the province’s guidelines for school bus transportation “will impact many families.”
The division said it’ll be scheduling buses based on provincial guidelines while ensuring physical distancing is in place and that means running them “at less than full capacity.”
The division said it will focus on providing transportation to students with additional needs and those who live outside the perimeter in the municipalities of East St. Paul and St. Clements.
The division also said its walk zone boundary will be expanded from 1.6 to 2.5 kilometres and only those living outside the boundary will be eligible for school bus transportation.
“I can see that being an issue with two parents, with two different jobs, having different shifts and stuff and not being able to transport their kids to school,” said parent Kevin Sterzuk, who has two children in the division.
The Pembina Trails School Division said it will have to drastically reduce ridership. Students with additional needs will be transported to and from school. Where rides aren’t available, families are being encouraged to arrange for their own transportation.
Habermann feels comfortable with the safety measures schools are putting in place. Now she’s just waiting to find out whether her daughter’s school will be able to provide buses or if she’ll have to make time for rides.
“For me personally, yeah, it’ll be a bit of a challenge but I definitely empathize with people that are going to have a bigger challenge than I do,” she said.
The province’s school reopening plan said additional measures may be required on buses during the school year, depending on the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
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