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School bus confusion left kids stranded

Confusion over the Ministry of Education stance on physical distancing and bus company rules saw children stranded 22km from home Monday afternoon.

Children were left off the buses on Monday afternoon as confusion reigned over whether physical distancing rules applied.

Five students from Howick College were barred from boarding a Howick and Eastern bus to Maraetai, 22km from the school as the bus was full and the bus driver believed a ‘no standing’ rule was in place. 

The Ministry of Education runs several rural bus services, it had concluded these buses were closed environments and physical distancing was not required. 

There are also third party suppliers the Ministry uses, such as Auckland Transport and Howick and Eastern buses.

These companies have their own company rules around social distancing.

Howick College parent Steve Deane said his Year 9 son was one of those told they couldn’t board the bus as seats were full and standing was not allowed. 

In normal times the buses provisioned by the Ministry of Transport do not provide enough seating for all students travelling on them, students are required to stand in the aisles during the 22 kilometre journey. 

No standing rules of Howick and Eastern meant the buses provided could not carry all students. 

“These kids were kicked off the bus and there were no arrangements made to get them home,” said Deane.

His son managed to get a ride home with another stranded student’s parent.

Newsroom has attempted to contact Howick and Eastern Buses to ask whether it raised concerns with the Ministry of Education regarding the potential students would be left behind. We are still waiting for a return call.

In an email, Ministry of Education told Deane it had contacted Howick and Eastern Buses:

“Howick and Eastern Buses Ltd were informed on Wednesday last week that no social distancing was required and to run as normal practice with the exception of providing hand sanitiser and daily cleaning of the touch areas on buses. MoE would approve the option of distancing from the driver e.g. block off seats behind the driver. That remained optional.”

Howick College principal, Iva Ropati, said he was there when the five students were told they couldn’t board the bus.

He said the bus driver phoned a supervisor and agreed to take the students to transfer to another bus. 

Three students took this option and the others arranged a parent.

“Maraetai and beaches families, they’re 20 kilometres away. It’s not just mum and dad jump in the car and drop them off.”

Ropati is not happy with what happened.

“It’s just silly. You can’t say seated only, no standing and then expect these kids and families to find their own way to school. It’s just dumb.”

He called the situation messy and uncoordinated. 

“If the ministry communicated to the bus company that schools were going back then the Government should have considered that with the bus companies. In other words, if there are some physical distancing requirements on buses, that means there's not gonna be enough buses to carry passengers.”

He said it was irresponsible of bus companies to expect parents to make their own arrangements.

Students are now allowed to stand on Howick and Eastern buses.

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