Transportation During COVID-19

During these unprecedented times, Consortia across the province are working with their Member School Boards, their local Public Health Unit, their Operators and the Ministry of Education to mitigate health risks associated with COVID-19 on transportation vehicles.  OSTA’s priority is creating an environment where students can feel safe and limit the transmission of the virus to the extent possible.

Due to different local conditions, some areas may have a slightly different approach regarding a variety of aspects relating to student transportation.  In all cases, however, care has been taken to meet and/or exceed the Ministry’s guidelines.

+ - Parents'/Guardians' daily responsibility to assess their child’s health

Parents must assess their child’s health before sending them on the bus/van or dropping them off at school.  Please see Public Health Ontario resources on COVID safety and a self-assessment tool.

Public Health Ontario Resource

Self-assessment Tool

Parents will be required to pick up their child at the bus stop or at the school immediately upon identification of a sick child.  Unsupervised sick students at the stop will be isolated on the vehicle upon boarding, to the extent possible.  The student will be required to wear a mask during the trip to school.

The Principal will determine if an identified student may return home on the bus, with proper precautions.

+ - Preparing students for their trip to school
  • Respiratory and hand hygiene are critical mitigation strategies that limit the transmission of viruses. Students are encouraged to wash their hands thoroughly and/or use hand-sanitizer prior to going to the stop, and then sanitizing their hands again (using their hand-sanitizer) before boarding the bus.
  • Students in KG to grade 3 should wear a mask, and grade 4 to grade 12 students must wear a mask, unless unable to do so for medical reasons or due to special needs.

Please keep in mind that reducing COVID-19 risk of transmission is everyone’s responsibility.

Reviewing basic school bus safety rules is also critical, particularly for first-time riders.  The following resources are available to teach young students school bus safety: here

+ - Selecting the best mode of transportation for individual family bubbles

If eligible students and their parents choose not to use OSTA’s transportation services, we ask that you opt-out as soon as possible here.  This will assist OSTA, the School and Public Health to perform contact tracing on students who are actually riding the bus, if a suspected case of COVID-19 is identified. Eligible students may opt back into the service at any time, although reassignment to transportation may take some time depending on the volume of changes.

It is recommended that parents and students use active transportation to get to school as much as possible.  Walking and rolling the whole way, or part of the way, will reduce traffic around the school and provide a mask-free experience.

Please see OSTA’s resources designed to help students who live in the Walk Zone: Walking School Bus, Walk-a-Block, Walk&Roll Meetup, Walk to School Routes, Pedestrian Safety Tips, Safer School Zones.

OSTA has suspended the Empty Seat/Courtesy Seating Program this year due to the uncertainty of COVID-19 restrictions.

+ - Opt-Out of transportation

If eligible students and their parents choose not to use OSTA’s transportation services, we ask that you opt-out as soon as possible here This will assist OSTA, the School and Public Health to perform contact tracing on students who are actually riding the bus if a suspected case of COVID-19 is identified. Eligible students may opt back into the service at any time, although reassignment to transportation may take some time depending on the volume of changes.

+ - School Bus Safety

School Bus Safety Starts at Home!

Did you know that school bus safety is EVERY bus rider’s responsibility?

To ensure your child understands how to take the bus safely, OSTA recommends that parents/guardians:

  • Review the School Bus Safety Brochure with their child, either online or in hardcopy format, before school starts and on a regular basis
  • Help their child understand their role in keeping themselves, and the other riders, safe.
  • Practice proper bus riding behaviour at home with their child.

You can help the bus driver get everyone to and from school safely, simply by following these bus safety rules!

+ - Student Behaviour Management
Reducing the risk of transmission between students will depend upon their behaviour while riding the bus.  New rules regarding mask-wearing, hand-hygiene and physical distancing will be communicated frequently and reinforced with visual and verbal cues on the bus.  Students are expected to respect their seating assignment, even if it means they are seated with their siblings or classmates, rather than their friends or by themselves. These are all necessary precautions to reduce transmission and to facilitate contact tracing if there is a COVID positive case reported.
School bus safety rules are designed to reduce injury to students on their ride to and from school.  Students should remain seated with their backpack on their lap and avoid "horsing-around". They should not eat or drink on the bus to avoid spills and garbage.  Bullying on the bus, whether verbal or physical, will not be tolerated.
Students who do not follow general school bus safety rules, and/or who cause disturbances on the bus with their unruly behaviour, may be temporarily or permanently suspended from receiving transportation services. Please review these online safety rules with your child.
+ - Seat Assignments

Students who live in the same household will be expected to sit together, while single riders may be grouped with classmates, to the extent possible.

The School prepares the seat assignment and Drivers will be responsible for telling students in which seat they should sit.  Seats will be clearly numbered. The student must stay in their assigned seat during every ride in order to maintain cohort bubbles to the extent possible. This reduces virus transmission and facilitates contract tracing for public health.

Kindergarten students will be seated near the front, and parent/guardian will be required to meet them at their stop, as usual.

Seat assignments may change due to newly registered students, however, OSTA may attempt to limit changes to seat assignments, if necessary.

+ - Waiting at the stop

Parents/guardians and students are expected to do their best to maintain adequate physical distance between family groupings.  A distance of 2m between families is suggested.

Stops, where there are many students (i.e. apartment buildings, congregated stops), may be divided into 2 or more stops in order to allow space for smaller groups of students to wait.  It is important that students arrive at their designated stop at least 5 minutes before the posted stop time.

Once the bus arrives, students should not crowd the front door.  Rather, students should line up while maintaining a 2m physical distance between them, where possible.  No more than one student should be on the stairs at a time.  Students should get to their assigned seats and sit down with their bag on their lap as quickly as possible.

+ - Meeting the Driver

Operators will do their utmost to keep the same driver on the same run, every day.  Drivers will be expected to wear a mask unless they are unable to do so due to a medical condition or because it interferes with their vision.  As students board, drivers may be wearing a mask and face shield or goggles.  This can be frightening for children, who may not recognize their friendly faces. Parents/guardians should consider talking about this aspect of the ride with their children before their first trip on the bus, and supervise them at the stop until they board the bus.

Because Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is designed to protect the wearer, drivers of yellow buses and vans will have the option to wear whatever PPE they feel protects them best.  This means drivers may wear their own cloth masks or may be provided medical-grade masks, should they so choose. They may or may not wear face shields or goggles during loading or while responding to a first aid event.

Drivers of wheelchair buses will be required to wear additional PPE, not only to protect themselves but also to protect each student from cross-contamination. These drivers should wear a face shield or goggles, a mask and a paper gown when handling and securing individual students’ wheelchair.  This is due to the close proximity between the driver and the student, and the higher potential for body fluid transmission.  The driver should use hand sanitizer before and after handling each student or wear disposable gloves.

+ - Loading and unloading at the school

Upon arriving at the school, students will unload from the front to the back, one seat at a time, while maintaining physical distance between them. Students should use their personal hand-sanitizer as soon as they get off the bus and before entering the school, if possible. Schools will direct students to make their way to the appropriate location for their class cohorts.

At dismissal time, Schools will do their best to maintain class cohorts until it is time to load buses/vans.  Class cohorts may be separated into family cohorts upon loading, based on seat assignments.

+ - School Active Transportation

To help support School Active Transportation, OSTA has created Walking Route Maps, Walk-a-Block Maps and Walk&Roll maps for most schools to help your child walk to school safely. Not only is Active Transportation a wonderful way for students (and parents) to add physical activity to their day, it also helps reduce vehicle traffic around schools, creating a safer school zone for children and improving air quality for all.

Read more about OSTA’s Walk-a-Block, Walk&Roll Meetup and other School Active Transportation programs here!

+ - The Walking School Bus Environment

The Walking School Bus (WSB) at select schools will continue with precautions.  The WSB leader will be wearing a mask and some may also wear a face shield if they prefer to and/or gloves.  Younger students who cannot maintain physical distance from one another will be required to hold a rope which will be marked by tape to demonstrate the correct intervals for individual walkers.  Older students, who understand and respect physical distancing, may follow behind the younger group.  This rope will be cleaned between each run.  Students are not required to wear masks outdoors but should bring them to school.  Students should have their personal hand-sanitizer to clean their hands prior to holding the rope and directly after they arrive at school.

+ - The Yellow Bus Environment
  • Assigned seating by family bubble or classroom bubble, to the extent possible. Seats will be clearly numbered and the driver will indicate in which seat each student should sit.
  • Loading capacity will be as normal, with a full load being 48-70 students, depending on the number of eligible students and their grade level. Students may be seated 2 or 3 per bench.
  • Students in KG to grade 3 should wear a mask, and grade 4 to grade 12 students must wear a mask, unless unable to do so for medical reasons or due to special needs.
  • The bench behind the driver will be left vacant, to the extent possible. This bench may be used to isolate a sick child.
  • Deep cleaning of vehicles twice a day with an approved disinfectant. Once after the morning runs and once again after the afternoon runs.  The handrail, a high touch area, will be cleaned after every run.
+ - Public Transit Environment

As part of OC Transpo’s fall service change, school service will start on Monday, August 31. School services will be similar to previous years, but some homebound trips will operate earlier from schools where the days will end earlier. Depending on the staggered return to school dates, OC Transpo may temporarily reassign school service trips to meet other needs. Once the schools open to all grades, the service will be fully committed to those routes and will be adjusted further if there are further changes to the school times.

We understand that many parents and students are feeling anxious about many aspects of the return to school. OC Transpo’s goal is to provide a safe, simple and stress-free return to school transportation. In collaboration with Ottawa Public Health, we continue to make transit service as safe as possible for everyone, with mandatory masks for all customers, enhanced cleaning, hand sanitizer dispensers in stations and protective shields around bus operators.

OC Transpo is working closely with all four school boards, OSTA and CTSO on this year’s back to school plans. OC Transpo understands this remains an evolving situation, and we are ready to adjust our services as required. Our trip schedules are based on the most recent information, including:

  • Matching trip times to school times and start dates;
  • Adding trips to accommodate early dismissal times from some high schools; and,
  • Monitoring crowding on school routes and traffic conditions every day and having buses on standby to ensure space for all students.

Based on the information we have received from the school boards, most students will return to school five days a week at normal times, except for high school students, who will be split into two cohorts and will attend school on alternating days.

English Catholic School Board

  • Regular September school service will operate, with the potential to adjust capacity based on requirements;
  • Regular morning start and afternoon end times will be maintained for all grades;
  • Grade 7 will return to school on September 8;
  • Grade 8 will return to school on September 9; and,
  • Grades 9 to 12 will return to school on September 14 or 15.

English Public School Board

  • There is no change to morning start times, and so regular morning school trips will operate to all schools;
  • Grades 7 and 8 will maintain regular morning start and afternoon end times;
  • Regular afternoon school trips will operate from high schools with Grade 7 and 8 students to accommodate their dismissal times;
  • Grades 9 to 12 will be dismissed at earlier times in the afternoon. For the earlier end times, new trips will be added and travel options on regular midday service will be identified to accommodate student needs. The regular afternoon school trips from the high schools that only serve Grades 9 to 12 will not operate; and,
  • Students will have staggered return dates, to be determined by the school board.

Safer door-to-door

  • OC Transpo has developed a “safer door-to-door” brochure that will be distributed by schools to students when they get their Presto cards. The brochure shows a simple step-by-step process that outlines how to use the transit system and includes messaging on health and safety measures such as always wearing a mask and using hand sanitizer. OC Transpo safer door to door

In summary, OC Transpo is implementing a number of initiatives to assist with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the following:

  • Start/finish times – We are working with OSTA and CTSO to plan and deploy our service to meet modified school times.
  • Careful monitoring – All bus routes that serve schools will be monitored so we can make adjustments based on early trends and observations.
  • Deployment of resources – Buses will be on standby to address possible gaps or overloads as required.

As OC Transpo finalizes plans with OSTA details will be communicated on octranspo.com, social media, and through promotion with our partners. Students and parents should check the Travel Planner for schedules before school starts. Some details are still being finalized so they are encouraged to keep checking.

+ - The Van Environment

  • Parents and school staff must wear a mask when securing students within the van
  • Parents may choose to use a non-scented, disinfectant wipe to clean any plastic or metal surfaces where their child will be sitting. Spray will not be permitted.
  • Senior students sitting in the front seat must wear a mask.
  • Students in KG to grade 3 should wear a mask, and grade 4 to grade 12 students must wear a mask, unless unable to do so for medical reasons or due to special needs
  • Assigned seating by family bubble or classroom bubble, to the extent possible. Loading up to 6 passengers
  • Deep cleaning of vehicles twice a day with an approved disinfectant. Once after the morning runs and once again after the afternoon runs.

+ - The Wheelchair Bus Environment
  • The driver may wear a gown, face shield or goggles, mask, and gloves, depending on the circumstances. The driver will use hand sanitizer before and after loading each student or wear gloves.
  • Assigned seating by family bubble or classroom bubble, to the extent possible. Seats will be clearly numbered and the driver will indicate in which seat each student should sit.
  • Loading capacity will be normal. Ambulatory Students may be seated 2 or 3 per bench.  All wheelchair positions will be used to secure students using wheelchairs.
  • Students in KG to grade 3 should wear a mask, and grade 4 to grade 12 students must wear a mask, unless unable to do so for medical reasons or due to special needs.
  • The bench behind the driver will be left vacant, to the extent possible. This bench may be used to isolate a sick child.
  • Deep cleaning of vehicles twice a day with an approved disinfectant. Once after the morning runs and once again after the afternoon runs.  The handrail, a high touch area, as well as any other affected areas, will be cleaned after every run.
+ - Bus Attendants and Monitors

Bus attendants and monitors will wear increasingly protective gear, depending on their role within the bus/van.  Any individuals that come into close proximity with a student (i.e. to load and secure the student) will likely wear a gown, face shield or goggles, a mask and gloves. An alternative to using gloves is to use hand sanitizer before and after handling each student.

Individuals who are only monitoring students and who are not required to enter into the 2m physical space around students for any reason, will only be required to wear masks, unless unable to do so, and may choose to wear face shields or goggles.

+ - Adult Crossing Guards

Adult Crossing Guards (ACG) are deployed at warranted locations by the City of Ottawa and are managed by the Ottawa Safety Council. The ACG will be wearing a mask and some may also wear a face shield if they prefer to. The ACG will indicate using chalk lines or by speaking to students as to where they should stop and stand while waiting to cross the street while maintaining physical distance from pedestrians and students.

Students are asked to make a special effort to give crossing guards some space while crossing the street.  Drivers are reminded that it is illegal to proceed through an intersection while a crossing guard remains in the intersection, even if it appears there is space.  This is a finable offence.

+ - Contact Tracing

In the event there is an individual, whether School Staff, Driver or Student, identified as potentially having COVID-19, and who may have come in contact with students on a particular bus, the School will contact the local Public Health Unit.  The Public Health Unit will conduct contact tracing based on predetermined criteria and advise the school and affected individuals regarding next steps to take.  This may or may not include self-isolation or other measures.