School buses set to return to 100% capacity

Any spare seats on bus services to be offered to students over coming weeks

School buses for tens of thousands of secondary students are set to return to full capacity.

School buses for tens of thousands of secondary students are set to return to full capacity.

 

School buses for tens of thousands of secondary students are set to return to full capacity.

The capacity for school buses for post-primary students has been limited to 50 per cent since September 2020. There are no such limits at primary level.

However, the Department of Education and Bus Éireann – which operates school transport services – are planning to begin moving to 100 per cent capacity after the October midterm break.

The move will bring school buses into line with public transport which has been operating at full capacity for several weeks.

A spokesman for the department said the move to full capacity services will “take a period of time” to reorganise and reschedule services and to communicate with families regarding any revised arrangements.

“Any pupil who has been issued a ticket for this school year will retain their ticket for the year,” the spokesman added.

Any spare capacity available will be offered to “concessionary” pupils or late applicants.

Concessionary pupils are those who are not strictly eligible for school transport, but are offered seats where capacity exists after all eligible children have been catered for.

Services

In relation to post-primary special needs transport services, the spokesman said the department will work with schools on a case-by-case basis where such services may be required to continue operating at 50 per cent capacity.

The move will also give certainty to schools over their ability to use private buses at full capacity for tours and sports matches.

At present, schools say it been a grey area, with some private bus services running at full capacity and others at 50 per cent.

Meanwhile, the Department of Education has delayed issuing revised guidelines on whether to resume school activities such as indoor sports, choirs and in-person parent-teacher meetings in light of rising Covid-19 case numbers.

Officials have been examining the potential of relaxing rules to allow more school activities for several weeks.

However, education partners say they were told recently that guidelines have been delayed until after midterm when there is greater clarity on Covid-19 cases in schools and the wider community.

While schools reopened in September, there are still restrictions across a range of activities.

For example, in-school activities such as parent-teacher meetings, cake sales, concerts, plays, choral recitals and many indoor sports have not been permitted for public health reasons.

Rising numbers of positive cases across the population – including children – have raised doubts over whether the restrictions will be relaxed.

A spokesman for the Department of Education said the safe and sustained operation of schools is a key priority of the department and public health authorities.

“The evidence available from the operation of schools during Covid-19 to date shows that schools are low risk environments due to the effective implementation of infection prevention and control measures by the whole school community,” he said.

Urgent review

However, there have been concerns among some education partners over the rise in Covid-19 cases and the ending of routine contact tracing last month for close contacts among children in primary schools.

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) has called for the immediate re-introduction of testing and contact tracing in primary schools due to the rising number of infections.

It wants a pilot scheme for antigen testing to begin in schools and an “urgent” review on restricting the use of face coverings to children aged 13 and over.

The union says the cessation of routine testing and contact tracing in primary schools from September 27th was “premature”.

“This change in policy last month, which was challenged by this union, was informed by a view at the time that further relaxation of public-health measures was on the cards,” it said.

A spokesman for the department said the response to confirmed cases or outbreaks of Covid-19 in the community or in a school is led and managed by the HSE.

“All decisions as to appropriate actions following a confirmed case or outbreak will be made by HSE Public Health,” he said.

In cases where there are multiple cases in a class or school, the spokesman said public health authorities engage closely with individual schools.

“The department’s advice to schools is to follow public health advice at all times. The department has always been guided by public health advice in relation to appropriate Covid-19 infection prevention and control measures in place in schools. These measures protect students, their parents and school staff and are very effective,” he said,