Parent-power has temporarily triumphed in Inishowen. It appears the ongoing school-transport controversy has been resolved for the 2012 / 2013 academic year.
In April, the Journal was contacted by a distraught mum-of-two whose son was denied a school-bus place from Muff to Moville Community College. His sister already attended the college but the family was informed their son would have to attend post-primary school in Buncrana, which Bus Éireann deemed nearer.
However, speaking to the Journal yesterday, Suzanne Altman, a spokesperson for the national carrier said applicants seeking school transport from Muff to Moville Community College, for Sep[tember 2012, could now avail of concessionary transport.
Ms Altman said: “No pupil has been refused a place on the Moville bus from Muff or advised that they have to go to Buncrana instead. Although these applicants are not eligible they can now avail of concessionary transport, subject to the the conditions that govern concessionary applicants.
“If there is greater demand than seats available, a draw for the seats that remain available after all eligible children have been accommodated may need to be undertaken by Bus Éireann.”
Government changes to school transport services, due to be implemented from September 2012, have met with growing opposition from parents and public representatives in Inishowen.
The Department of Education’s School Transport Scheme stated that a pupil must reside 4.8km from his / her post-primary school in order to be deemed eligible for transport to that school.
According to Suzanne Altman, this distance was determined on the shortest distance between the applicant’s home and the nearest appropriate school.
She said: “This applies whether that route is always used, sometimes used, or never used by the applicant, has no bearing on a person’s eligibility.”
Parents in Inishowen had questioned the appropriateness of determining the distance from Muff to Buncrana via the potentially treacherous and never used, Grainne’s Gap.
Sinn Féin Donegal North East TD, Padraig Mac Lochlainn said the policy was ‘nonsense’.
He said: “The new School Transport Scheme is causing problems for families all over Donegal. People living in the Finn Valley and in Newtoncunningham are being adverselty affected by this policy. The government needs to ammend these rules as soon as possible to ensure siblings are able to go to the same school.
“Families should not be broken up by bureaucrats measuring distances as the crow flies.”
Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Children, Charlie McConalogue also called on junior Education Minister Ciarán Cannon to reverse his plans to restrict free school transport.
He said, “I have been contacted by a number of parents in the past week who have been told that their children will not be eligible for free primary school transport from September.
“I believe that this is an approach that makes no financial sense. In most cases the school bus is already travelling from these town lands but new pupils will not be entitled to a place without paying a concessionary charge and can only travel if there is spare capacity on the bus.
“As a result, some children starting school in September will find they are not allowed to travel on the same bus as their older siblings.”
The TD added: “I have raised this matter with Minister Cannon on several occasions but he has so far refused to consider the impact of his decision on families in Donegal and across the country.”