Tuesday, 29 September 2020

Ceisteanna (437)

Niamh Smyth

Ceist:

437. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Education the safety measures being used for school children on school buses (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27039/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

School Transport is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department of Education. In the 2019/20 school year over 120,000 children, including over 14,200 children with special educational needs, were transported in over 5,000 vehicles on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country covering over 100 million kilometres at a cost of over €219m in 2019.

Based on the public health advice published in early July, my Department has been planning for School Transport Scheme services for the 2020/2021 school year to fully operate, but with additional measures and hygiene requirements in place. The Department has been engaging intensively with Bus Éireann in regard to the logistics for the safe operation of School Transport Scheme services for the 2020/2021 school year.

The Department has issued detailed information and guidance to parents and children on the operation of school transport services for the 2020/2021 school year. All children using school transport scheme services are being asked to comply with the a number of guidelines, including not to use school transport if they are displaying obvious symptoms, to maintain physical distancing while waiting for transport, to always sit in their pre-assigned seating, to use hand sanitiser prior to or on boarding the bus, to observe respiratory etiquette at all times and that all children on post-primary transport are required to wear facemasks while waiting for and on-board transport services (with the exception of children who for medical or special educational needs reasons are not in a position to wear a facemask or face covering).

Bus Éireann has and continues to engage with their own drivers and with private contractors who are contracted to provide school transport services in regard to sanitisation and additional cleaning requirements on school transport services.

Updated health advice was received from NPHET on the 18th August, which impacts on the operation of post-primary school transport services. This advice stated that for secondary school students on school transport, strict distancing should be ensured in line with that on public transport along with the wearing of face coverings and that primary school students should distance where possible.

Following the most recent advice from NPHET, the Government decided that the post-primary scheme (including SEN post-primary services) would commence operation when schools re-open with additional measures in place, such as pre-assigned seating and additional hygiene and cleaning measures on services and with the rolling implementation of measures to provide physical distancing, in line with those required on public transport, which is using 50% of passenger capacity, on the post- primary services as required.

My Department is engaging with Bus Éireann in respect of these plans, to implement measures so that any services that can operate from the start of the school year at 50% capacity will do so and over the coming period all other post-primary transport services will be re-organised and additional services will be provided as required to allow for physical distancing.