Plenty of attention devoted to classroom health and safety, but what about getting to and from school aboard that big yellow bus?


With the start up of school still scheduled for Sept. 8, there has been no shortage of discussion, policy initiation, concern and disagreement over what life should look like in the classroom.
Equally important, but less documented, what about that important trip to and from school for students whose day starts and ends aboard the cramped confines of a school bus?
It should be obvious there is far more social contact on a bus than in a classroom.
We had a lengthy discussion this week with Kevin Murray, branch manager in the St. Thomas office of First Student Inc., who advised he is still awaiting the final route information from Southwestern Ontario Student Transportation Services (STS).

Parents will know them as My Big Yellow Bus and they serve as the transportation consortium for the London District Catholic School Board and the Thames Valley District School Board.
Bus registration to be undertaken by parents closed out Aug. 18.
Murray does know seating on the buses will be limited to a maximum of 46 people.
“And that’s for grade schools and that’s basically two people per seat except the seat behind the driver which is going to be left empty.”
Here’s where it gets interesting as windows will be left open as much as possible.
“Obviously, common sense will dictate when it’s pouring down rain or it’s a blizzard, the windows won’t be open.”
All children in Grade 4 and up will be mandated to wear masks on the bus.
“For kids in Grade 3 and under it is being recommended,” noted Murray. “And that’s from documentation sent out by STS asking parents to do that as well.”
With parents having to opt in for bus transportation this school year, Murray says the hope is there will be fewer students on the buses.
“They are expecting more parents to drive their kids this year and that is why they are arranging for a drop-off near the school . . . to reduce congestion at the school.”
As a possible example for John Wise Public School in St. Thomas, Murray suggested the St. Thomas Curling Club might be used and then parents can walk their child down to the school.
As for the drivers, Murray assured they will be wearing a mask at all times.
“Which they will be provided with. They will be provided with a face shield that they will wear whenever kids are getting on and off the bus.
“So there is far less chance of making any contact with particulants from the children’s mouths.”
Drivers will have constant access to hand sanitizer.
“And, buses will be cleaned and disinfected after every route in the morning and afternoon.”
Murray is anticipating an announcement next week from STS basically stating, “We feel that our drivers are as safe on the bus as they would be in a grocery store.”
Murray adds, according to STS figures, “Sixty per cent of all routes have the children on a bus for 15 minutes or less.”
Obviously, that is for trips within St. Thomas. When you look at schools like St. Anne’s and Msgr. Morrison, Murray notes “They are being drawn in from all over the county and they will be riding the bus longer.”
A key question that has yet to be answered is what if a particular bus is scheduled to have 49 students aboard, what happens then?
Murray concedes, “We did have buses last year that had 65 to 70 kids on board. With the little kids, they are three to a seat.”
Murray noted there are some bus runs where kids from two or three different schools may be on board at the same time.
“What’s going to happen is the schools will be responsible for seating plans.”

I’m confident, with the policies that have been put in place and what we’ve thought about here and with First Student being an international company, they really have been ahead of the curve right from the start.”

So, one side of the bus might be for School A and the other for School B.
“The seating plans will be based on the younger kids being moved closer to the front, as it normally is. Siblings will sit together this year on the bus. And kids in classrooms will sit together.
“What they’re trying to do is keep as much intermingling out of it as much as possible.
“As for high school kids, they’re encouraged that the first ones on the bus will be the ones sitting at the back of the bus and in the afternoon, the first ones who get off should be the ones sitting closer to the front.
“There are policies in place to try and keep our drivers and the students as safe as possible. But we’re also dealing with the parameters of numbers.
“Parents are really encouraged this year to make sure their kids are following the rules. Sit on the bus, keep your feet on the floor and look forward.
“No interaction because you’re on that bus for a purpose. And that is to get to school safely.”
Murray notes he has only been doing performing this job function since last September and as of March 13 with the onset of the pandemic, it has been interesting, a definite understatement.
It takes time and it just makes the 8th of September a little more stressful, he observes.
“I’m confident, what with the policies that have been put in place and what we’ve thought about here and with First Student being an international company, they really have been ahead of the curve right from the start.”

BRING ON THE ICE

At a special meeting of city council this past Tuesday, (Aug. 18), members gave the green light to city staff to begin the process of installing ice at the Joe Thornton Community Centre.
For the time being, Memorial Arena won’t be out in the cold as ice will not go into the venerable facility until a future date.
User groups have been asked for copies of their safe operating procedures for staff to review. As per provincial regulations announced earlier this month, 50 people are allowed in each rentable space in the facilities at one time. Both the Joe Thornton Community Centre and Memorial Arena have three rentable spaces each.
Having received council’s approval to proceed, Ross Tucker, director of parks, recreation and property management, indicated city staff will begin installing ice for rentals starting early next month.
He indicated it will take approximately two weeks to get ice ready for use in the two pads at the Joe Thornton Community Centre.
As to a question from Coun. Steve Peters regarding the availability of time for public skating, Tucker responded, “At this stage, there are a number of programs we’re looking at, including public skating.
“Public skating is one of the things we’re looking at once we get an accurate count from the user groups on how many hours they want to use.”
Most user groups are still awaiting confirmation from leagues and other organizations on how much time will be required and so the city is working from estimates at this time, advised Tucker.


Peters continued, “I would really like to see us find some allocation for public skating.”
Tucker noted a system will be established for use of the walking tracking around the main rink at the community centr
This will necessitate a booking system rather than just dropping in to use the track.
Casual and part-time staff will need to be hired to undertake the additional required cleaning. Tucker said an additional $500 per month has been targetted for additional cleaning supplies which he hopes to absorb in his department’s budget.
Treasurer Dan Sheridan indicated, in recent years, the Joe Thornton Centre has generated about $90,000 per month in ice revenue.
Tucker does not anticipate city youth programs will operate prior to this winter.

GOING FOR THE YARDAGE

Like many other similar facilities across the province, Pearce-Williams Summer Camp has suffered a financial body blow thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As camp executive director Joe Richards points out, the facility has been a “home away from home” for children, teenagers and adults for 60 years.
Camp director Lindsey Feltis adds, “Pearce Williams gives young people the opportunity to become the best version of themselves in a safe and supportive environment.”
“We often hear from camp alumni who tell us that the things they learned at camp have helped them well into adulthood – as people, as parents and as business owners.”
Well, the summer the jubilant campers have been replaced by groups of temporary foreign workers self-isolating for 14 days before moving on to their place of employment.
In the process, creating financial uncertainty for the camp.
Leave it to a golf instructor to swing into the picture.
Johann Kinting, of GolfLondon.ca and founder/director of Junior Golf at Iron Creek Country Club east of St. Thomas, understands the positive impact of the camp on families.


He notes, “Pearce Williams truly is a community that benefits all ages. The positive impact camp has on families along with the support and encouragement I felt at Pearce Williams played a pivotal role in helping me launch my business.”
And, what better way to financially assist Pearce-Williams than to rely on what Kinting does very well . . . drive a golf ball.
At first, he toyed with driving a golf ball all the way from the first tee at Iron Creek to Pearce Williams, about 39 kilometres.

Every donation makes a difference during these challenging times.”

It didn’t take long to see how impractical that would be, not to mention dangerous for all involved.
Instead, Kinting will drive golf balls off the first tee at Iron Creek next Friday, Aug. 28 until he has whacked them a total of 42,650 yards, the distance from the tee to the camp near Iona.
At an average of 250 yards per drive, he figures 172 shots should do it.
And, should take about four hours.
He calls the fundraiser Driving Fore Dollars and you can sponsor him by the ball or yardage at campisbetter.ca
Corporate sponsorships are also available.
“Every donation makes a difference during these challenging times,” stresses Richards.
“We are excited to be working with Johann and Iron Creek to make this fundraiser a success.”
And prove once and for all that Johann really is a swinging kind of guy.

THE READER’S WRITE

Responding to our item last week on the proposal to re-purpose the second floor of the downtown transit building into micro-apartments, Timothy Hedden responded on Twitter with the following.

“Further development downtown and increased population density will be the way we best help revitalize the core and help small business. Great job on the transit building! The ongoing mural projects look great as well!”

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And a reminder, I can be heard weekday afternoons as news anchor and reporter on 94.1 myFM in St. Thomas. As always, your comments and input are appreciated.

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