The B.C. Ferries vessel MV Quinsam will carry two school buses of Gabriola students to and from Nanaimo District Secondary School on school days to help with physical distancing aboard the ferry. (News Bulletin file photo)

School buses of Gabriola students will be ferried to and from Nanaimo each day

New service starts due to challenges of physical distancing aboard MV Quinsam ferry

Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district and B.C. Ferries are teaming up to provide bus service for high school students on Gabriola Island.

Beginning Monday, Sept. 14, two school buses will be at Descanso Bay ferry terminal to shuttle students on the 7:35 a.m. sailing to Nanaimo District Secondary School, catchment school for the area. Students would then be shuttled from school back to Gabriola on the 3:45 p.m. ferry from Nanaimo Harbour terminal, with buses required to depart within 10 minutes of the dismissal bell.

The move is part of the district’s COVID-19 restart plan, the district said in a letter to parents. B.C. Ferries protocols affected the number of students that could use the Gabriola-Nanaimo ferry, said Dale Burgos, school district spokesman.

“Because of the size of the ferry and the waiting rooms and so on and so forth, students would be using that space and there would be a potential that no social distancing or physical distancing would be allowed…” said Burgos. “This was the best solution. Bringing our two buses onto the ferry and keeping them on the bus while the ferry was in motion was our best option to keep all our students safe and physically distanced.”

There are approximately 100 Gabriola Island students at NDSS and while Burgos said it will be one student per seat when possible, based on the numbers, there will be instances where students from the same family will be able to share seating.

Students will be required to wear masks on buses and Burgos said the driver will be also wearing personal protective equipment and will be protected by shielding.

There will be a third bus on standby in the event ridership exceeds available seating, said the district.

“This is definitely something new, something we’ve never done before, and something that has been put together during COVID-19,” said Burgos. “I’m not sure the extent and how long this would be, but again, in the future, if the numbers change, or if we find that ridership goes up or down, we’ll have further discussions with B.C. Ferries.”

While a final decision has not yet been made, the district anticipates that money for the busing will be allocated from $2 billion in federal COVID-19 funding recently announced for schools in Canada, said Burgos.

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