With the school year fast approaching, many parents are worried about their children’s safety as they return to the classroom. In North Grenville this often also means getting on a bus with their peers, and some parents are wondering how their children are going to kept safe on their ride to school.
Director of Valley Bus Lines, Brandon Bélanger, says the company has been working hard to create and implement a plan that will keep both students and bus drivers as safe as possible on the route to school in September. Valley Bus Lines is a subsidiary of Sogesco, a company run out of Drummondville, Quebec, and services many of the schools in the North Grenville and Merrickville-Wolford area.
Brandon says that when they were given the go ahead from the province to reopen their office at the end of April, the first thing they did was hire cleaners to come in and scrub down each of their buses three times.
When the school year starts, each driver will be provided with a clean sanitized bus. Drivers will be supplied with a secured tote occupying the first seat behind the drivers seat. These totes will contain face masks, face shields, hand sanitizer, and any other PPE that may be needed for their route. They will also be provided with no-wipe sanitizing mist that they will need to use twice a day to sanitize seats and all high contact areas between runs. As of right now, there will not be a plexiglass barrier between the driver and students, but Brandon notes that this could change upon instruction from the participant groups, including Student Transportation of Eastern Ontario (STEO).
As of Friday, these consortia are working on updating routes, taking out the students that are choosing to learn from home. Brandon has read that students from the same household will be required to sit together, as well as follow seating plans. “We won’t get out final counts until next week,” Brandon said.
The provincial government has announced $40 million to help with extra hours being earned by drivers for additional cleaning. “We are hoping that the $40 million that the government has allotted for bus cleaning is provided soon”.
Through outreach efforts on Canada Day, Valley Bus Lines were able to find a few new drivers, however they are still actively recruiting. “We still have a couple of runs open,” according to Brandon.
Getting ready to welcome kids back on their buses after a long hiatus and COVID-19 has been a challenge. Valley Bus Lines have had to move quickly to implement policies and procedures required by the provincial government, school boards, STEO, and their other regulatory bodies.
Brandon is happy to be working for a company that acted quickly to address COVID-19. Sogesco has many policies and procedures in place which include how to proceed if a driver or student identifies with the virus, as well as in-house temperature checks, and contact tracing protocols.
“I’d like to take a moment to thank Frank Healey and School Bus Ontario for the continued excellent work they do on behalf of the school transportation companies in Ontario,” he says.
Like everything related to this year’s return to school, Brandon says they will have to adapt as the needs change. “In unprecedented times we have to be calm, cool, and levelheaded,” he says. “The ultimate goal is the health and safety of our students and staff. After all, our motto is: Carrying the Future Safely.”
Valley bus Lines ltd. has extended an invite to Premier Doug Ford and MPP Steve Clark. We would be honoured if they would spend a couple of hours with us so we can show them just how much responsibility a bus driver has and how we are doing our best to protect them and our students.