KITCHENER -- Waterloo Region's school transportation service has released an outline of its plan for the school year, as students prepare to return to classes amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Student Transportation Services of Waterloo Region (STSWR) released its plan on Monday morning, about three weeks before students are set to reenter the classroom.

In the fall, elementary students will be riding big buses with regular seating and up to three students from junior kindergarten to Grade 6. As for middle school kids, there will be a maximum of two students per bench.

For both groups, the outline suggests that there will be a maximum of 70 students per bus.

As for small buses, there will be regular seating with as many as 20 students per bus. Wheelchair-accessible buses will have a capacity of three or four wheelchairs per bus, or two students per bench.

STSWR also laid out its plans for students taking vans or taxis: five students per van, three students per taxi route, and no students in the front seat in either case.

This follows the provincial government's decision to have elementary and middle school students return to school as normal. Kids in Grade 4 and above will have to wear masks or face coverings at school, with some "reasonable exceptions." Younger students will still be encouraged to wear face coverings, but they won't be mandatory.

Waterloo Region's English-speaking school boards, on the other hand, will see secondary school students return to class on an adapted model, with class cohorts of about 15 students and partial online learning.

You can read the Waterloo Region District School Board's back-to-school plan on their website.

That difference in schooling is reflected in the STSWR plan for back-to-school, as well.

Secondary school students will take the bus with one student per bench, except for cases where siblings ride together. In that case, siblings will sit two per bench.

On small buses and wheelchair-accessible buses, there will be a limit of one student per bench, and a maximum of 10 and eight students per bus, respectively.

In vans, there will be a two-student limit, while taxis will only be allowed to take one student per trip except in the case of siblings. In both cases, students won't be allowed in the front seat.

According to the STSWR's plan, which it shared in a blog post on Monday morning, all students will have to follow a seating plan as mandated by public health for COVID-19 contact tracing. The transportation service is also imposing rules on masks in line with the province's guidance. Older students—Grade 4 and higher—will have to wear them, while those younger are still encouraged to do so.

All students are asked to wash their hands before getting on a bus, and hand sanitizer will be provided. STSWR says that high-touch areas, like handrails and the tops of bus seats, will be wiped down after every run. Buses will also get a thorough clean each day.

As far as alternative options for parents, there aren't many new ones. STSWR is offering parents the ability to opt out of school transportation, either altogether or for just morning or afternoon busing. Parents who opt out can opt their children back in if they change their minds.

Otherwise, STSWR encourages parents to use active travel—cycling, walking, scootering—as an alternative option that will reduce demand on busing. Parents can also drive their kids to school, but are asked to "consider the dangers of traffic congestion at the school site, and plan to park a short distance away to ensure the space is safer for all our students."

There have been more than 1,400 cases of COVID-19 in Waterloo Region to date, including 119 deaths.

Across Ontario, there have been over 40,000 cases, or almost a third of all the cases in Canada.

Since the pandemic began, more than 4.7 million people have been tested for the virus.