While Central Coast families have been busily getting ready for the start of a new school year, high schoolers are being reminded that this year, a face mask is a back to school essential.
In accord with the COVID-19 Mandatory Face Coverings Public Health Order, all students over the age of 12 who travel to and from school via public or chartered/private transport must mask up on buses and trains, as well as at train stations and bus stops, but according to Central Coast Council of P&Cs President, Sharryn Brownlee, the new rule is making some local families nervous.
It comes as the Department of Education, Transport for NSW and local bus services remain silent on issues surrounding compliance and policing of the new rule, with parents now concerned that a forgotten or broken mask could lead to their child being stranded.
“Here on the Coast, the start of a new school year is always a stressful time for families who rely on public transport, because the region lacks dedicated school bus services,” Brownlee said.
“A lot of local services are mixed with the public, especially around Lake Haven and the Peninsula, and that’s always been a cause for concern for parents and schools, especially at the beginning of the year, when services are notoriously overcrowded.
“In fairness to the bus companies, this overcrowding only occurs because they can’t know the numbers of new bus faring students ahead of time, but now this new mask rule is exacerbating the issue.
“There’s real concern on how this rule is going to be policed and what the repercussions will look like.
“Parents want to know how this will work and who’s going to be policing whether or not a child on a bus is 12 or not.
“There’s also a lot of questions emerging around what’ll happen if a student loses their mask or if their mask is damaged.
“The big one is whether or not they’ll still be able to get to or from school if something does happen, but right now there’s no real advice about this issue.
“My current understanding is that the Department of Education will be issuing advice to schools, with the schools then responsible for disseminating it to their families, but I don’t know that for certain and the lack of firm direction on this matter is worrying, given that kids will be back on buses this week,” Brownlee said.
Adding another layer of complexity to the issue is the fact that students don’t have to wear masks at school, meaning many families may not think to equip their high schooler with a face mask at all.
The fact that students under the age of 12 can also travel on the same bus services without needing to wear a mask is also confusing parents and Brownlee said clarification from the key players involved would be needed to defuse tensions.