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Business studies: Drivers relay fears over Covid-19 risks as school transport gears up for returning pupils nationwide

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Protection: Full wrap-around protective screens for drivers will only be installed several weeks after schools have reopened (Photo: AFP via Getty Images)

Protection: Full wrap-around protective screens for drivers will only be installed several weeks after schools have reopened (Photo: AFP via Getty Images)

AFP via Getty Images

Protection: Full wrap-around protective screens for drivers will only be installed several weeks after schools have reopened (Photo: AFP via Getty Images)

Bus drivers are concerned at catching Covid-19 as they begin school year as frontline workers - while no homework could be the one Covid-19 side effect which causes joy.

As the nation's children prepare to return to class, bus drivers and teachers will join the country's army of frontline workers.

But it is understood full wrap-around screens to protect drivers and social distancing measures won't be fully in place on school transport until a number of weeks into the new term, with parents of teenage pupils urged to ensure they wear face coverings on school buses.

There is a mixture of excitement and trepidation at the prospect of classrooms filling up again for the first time in six months. Desks will be filled with clear, plastic pencil cases and books with wipeable covers.

No homework is set to be the one Covid-19 side effect welcomed by pupils as books are likely to stay in school in clear boxes.

Meanwhile, on the national school bus fleet Assistant General Secretary of the National Bus and Rail Union, Paul Rowsome, said there is understandable concern among drivers.

"I'd say the median age is mid to late 50s and they often look after their elderly parents and it's a part-time situation.

"They are rolling out a programme to put in full cab screens like what you would see in a Dublin city service bus but that will take four to six weeks."

He said the union did tell Bus Eireann they had sat on their hands when it came to installing the full screens.

"The coaches that have been driven by school bus drivers are intercity coaches and there can be as little as 12 or 18 inches to the nearest school child sitting behind the driver

"In fairness they are supplying them with PPE equipment - face masks, visors, gloves and sanitising gels in the interim."

There is also concern that adolescent children may not be as naturally compliant as their younger peers.

"We all felt it was absolutely necessary that they go back to the classroom but at the same time the people who interact closely with them every day have to be protected.

"The big task is to get parents, particularly with teenage children, and they have a right to be teenagers, to ensure they comply with face coverings.

"If they don't do that, our drivers will get scared." Bus Eireann day seats are to be allocated to children and they will sit with a 'bus buddy' who will be a sibling or a classmate or someone in their class throughout the year.

Drivers will wear masks and visors and students over 13 years of age will be required to wear face coverings, with limited exceptions.

There will be enhanced and additional cleaning of school buses overnight and between morning and afternoon services.

The most recent advice from NPHET said primary school children don't have to socially distance on buses but their older secondary school counterparts will have to on the school transport.

Bus Eireann said there will be a rolling implementation of measures to provide physical distancing on the post-primary services to meet the 50 per cent capacity limit, ranging from scheduling changes to additional vehicles and drivers. A statement from the Department of Education stated that children whose parents decide not to use the school transport scheme will be eligible for a grant up to a maximum allowance of €5.10 a day or just over €25 a week.

Meanwhile the father of Waterford triplets - Lucy, Ethan and Matt O'Rourke - who all just weighed over one pound when born seven years ago, said he is happy to see the siblings return to Clashmore National School next week.

"They're happy to go back. They're going into first class," said father-of-four Pa O'Rourke.

"We're a small community and theirs is a small school. Waterford has been fairly good over Covid as well.

Plumbers

"I think there are about 10 or eleven in their class and they'll be split into pods so they'll probably be put with two children from the estate."

Meanwhile plumbers have been employed countrywide to ensure hot water and push taps are in school bathrooms.

In Kerry, the principal of Scoil Eoin, Tralee's largest primary school, said preparations are continuing apace.

Kieran O'Toole, whose school featured recently in the Sunday World, said they had started getting ready for reopening last June.

"The caretaker and I are still at school every day, and it has been non-stop...our two secretaries have also worked every day throughout the summer."

The Kerry principal is excited to welcome back the pupils through the doors.

"To be honest at this stage it will be a relief to be back at school.

"We will face whatever challenges come our way and do our very best to provide a safe, happy, exciting, learning environment for the children."