School bus contractors being left without COVID-19 guidance – Naughten

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Private school bus operators are not being given guidance on COVID-19 protocols that need to be in place when schools return, a Galway TD has said.

Galway-Roscommon TD Denis Naughten said that while Bus Eireann has been providing guidance documents to their private contractors, there are other operators who have been “completely forgotten” by authorities, with schools expected to reopen in just a few weeks.

“Steps such as allocating a specific seat to each student or putting a protocol in place should a child show symptoms of Covid-19 while on a bus are being put in place for Bus Éireann contracted services”.

“But many private operators outside this system have been provided with no guidance whatsoever,” The Independent TD said.

There are private contractors who provide school bus services for 2,000 students in four counties that have been given “absolutely no advice” on COVID-19 measures he said.

“If just one of these operators were to be a vector for Covid-19 infection, the meat plant fiasco would pale into insignificance.”

Students at the post-primary level will be required to wear face coverings if they are using a school bus for transport.

But aside from this measure, the Department of Education’s plan Reopening Our Schools: The Roadmap for The Full Return to School, does not contain any specific measures or guidance related to school transport.

The plan contains a total of €375 million to help schools reopen, including for the hiring of additional teaching staff to cope with smaller class sizes, and those who cannot return to work due to being in an at risk group, as well as funding for Minor Works to amend school layouts.

“The lack of consideration for this group of students could leave schools exposed to a level of risk of Covid infection that is preventable if support is provided to these operators,” said Denis Naughten.

Deputy Naughten said that the Minister for Education and National Transport Authority need to address this as a matter of urgency.

“Not only do they need guidance and support but they also need assistance in sanitising their buses just like those that are contracted to Bus Éireann.”