SD46 bus driver resigns over mask policy

A School District No. 46 (SD46) bus driver has resigned because masks are not mandatory for all ages on school buses.

Rick Kobus, who is employed by Thirdwave Bus Services and delivers children to Halfmoon Bay and Kinnikinnick elementary schools, among others in the district, gave his notice Oct. 1.

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“I love my job,” Kobus, who has been driving a bus for more than seven years on the Sunshine Coast, told Coast Reporter. “I’m going to miss all these guys.”

The 65-year-old, who has Crohn’s disease and a heart condition, says he is particularly concerned about his and the students’ health because, aside from windows, the buses aren’t ventilated.

The issue wasn’t as obvious when there were fewer children on buses in early September, said Kobus, but now they are fuller and soon the weather will turn wet and cold.

“We’re all concerned because without the kids wearing masks, that’s going to be a bit of a problem when the buses are all shut up, the heaters are turned on and the air is just spinning around in the middle of the bus, all moist … and not going anywhere,” he said.

Other drivers are also concerned, according to Kobus. There are approximately 19 bus drivers employed by Thirdwave in the district.

BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) published guidelines for school bus transportation in September, including recommending against elementary school students wearing non-medical masks because they are less likely to use them properly. SD46 follows those guidelines, and requires that secondary school students wear masks on buses.

Kobus said he has observed young elementary school children wearing masks despite that rule, but students between Grade 5 and 7 often don’t.

BCCDC recommends that drivers wear non-medical masks if they can’t physically distance or sit behind a physical barrier.

Transport Canada-approved Plexiglass or other transparent barriers have not been installed on the buses.

Hand sanitizer is offered to passengers and buses are sanitized twice daily.

Other BCCDC guidelines include keeping students as separated as possible and grouped by cohort or family, seating them beside windows and arranging students to board front to back and offload in reverse.

Responsibilities for ensuring those rules are followed are shared by the bus company and SD46.

The school district said it would monitor weather changes throughout the year and that BCCDC would be aware of issues around ventilation.

Kobus said he would be willing to return to work if the mask rules change. “As long as the kids are wearing masks, I’m fine. Then we’re all on the same page, we’re all doing the best we can.”

But unless BCCDC changes its guidelines, the current rules are likely to stick around.  Superintendent Patrick Bocking told Coast Reporter the district will adapt if BCCDC rules change but for now the district says the Ministry of Health and BCCDC protocols represent best practice and  “further advocacy is not required.”

“The Ministry of Health, through the BCCDC, is best equipped through science and public health practice to determine the best way to behave during the current pandemic,” said Bocking, adding: “We feel strongly that the contractor supports its drivers and is committed to safety for staff and students alike. We appreciate and support Thirdwave’s adherence to the provincial guidelines.”

Rules around masks on buses vary in the province and in Canada.

BC Transit and TransLink require all passengers over the age of five years old to wear face masks, though the rule isn’t enforceable and there are medical exemptions. The agencies have also installed transparent barriers on buses. In Manitoba, all students and any other passengers as well as drivers are required to wear masks on board school buses.

Children under the age of 18 make up less than 10 per cent of confirmed cases in B.C. as of Oct. 5, according to provincial health officer Bonnie Henry.

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