Tipperary families' fury as children are denied school bus service

Direct appeal made to minister

School bus seats denied

James Julian, Shóna Moloney, Adele Fitzgerald, Matilda Lawrence, Brian Corcoran, Rachel Corcoran, Cathy Julian, Elizabeth Julian.

Five families campaigning to secure a primary school bus service for 8 of their children attending Scoil Mhuire Gan Smál in New Inn are this week waiting to hear if their direct appeal to Minister John Halligan will deliver results.

The elder children of two of the families from the Lagganstown area of New Inn have school bus tickets but their younger children have been refused tickets even though they meet the distance qualifying criteria.

And two other families maintain they also meet the distance criteria to be classified as "eligible" to secure school bus tickets but their application has also been rejected.

The families met with the Minister of State for Training and Skills at Comeragh College last Monday, August 28 and he promised to look into their cases and come back to them within the next week or two.

Minister Halligan was presented with copies of the appeals the families have submitted to the School Transport Appeals Board, the independent body appointed by the Minister. Independent TDs Mattie McGrath and Michael Lowry and Cllr Michael Fitzgerald accompanied the families to the meeting.

The Lagganstown families spokesperson Mary Newman said at the moment the children from the families who have school bus tickets are travelling on the bus and they car pool to transport the rest of their children to school.

She said the ultimate solution to their difficulties is a larger school bus to accommodate their children.

She outlined that children from the Lagganstown area have been served by school bus transport to New Inn National School since the closure of Lagganstown National School in the 1970s. Lagganstown is in the same parish as New Inn and New Inn is where their children traditionally attend school and where families go to Mass.

Difficulties in securing bus tickets for children in their area has arisen over the past number of years due to an increase in student numbers at New Inn NS and a Primary School Transport Scheme rule change in 2012 that changed the criteria for eligibility from parish based catchment areas to living more than 3.2km from your "nearest" school.

Two of the families, the Fitzgeralds and Moloneys, have older children who have school bus tickets as they are classified as "eligible" to receive them. But their younger children have been unable to secure bus tickets as they are classified as "ineligible" and entitled to only "concessionary" tickets. This means they will only receive a ticket if there are seats left on the bus after all eligible children are catered for. At the moment there are no spare places available

Mary said classifying some members of the same family as eligible and issuing them tickets while classifying other siblings as concessionary didn't make sense and showed the system wasn't fit for purpose.

The other three families, including Mary's, have been refused school bus tickets to New Inn because they are classified as entitled only to concessionary tickets on the New Inn bus.

Mary said in her family's case she accepted her children were entitled only to concessionary tickets according to the school transport rules which deemed they are closer to Golden NS. However, they live in New Inn Parish and for them and their neighbours New Inn is the local school. The other two families, the Corcorans and Lawrences, are adamant New Inn is their nearest school and that they meet the required distance criteria.

Mary pointed out the New Inn school bus has collected members of the Corcoran family for 47 years and a child from the family had an eligible ticket for the New Inn bus after the 2012 rule change but is now classified as concessionary. A member of the Lawrence family had an “eligible” school bus ticket prior to 2012.

Mary criticised the on-line method used to calculate a household's distance from the local national school whereby applicants are asked to pinpoint their house on an inter-active map of their area. This was open to human error, she said. She suggested the use of a family's Eircode was a more accurate way to calculate distance.

Minister Halligan's spokeswoman said the Minister met with School Transport officials in the Department of Education & Skills last Wednesday to discuss the Lagganstown families' cases. Their appeals are currently being examined.

Bus Éireann said it operates all services within the parameters of the School Transport Scheme and any appeal of a school bus application decision was a matter for the Department of Education and Skills. The School Transport Appeals Board was an independent body appointed by the Minister of State at that Department.

It said children are eligible for primary school transport where they reside not less than 3.2 kms from and are attending their nearest national school, having regard to ethos and language. After all eligible applicants have been accommodated, ineligible children may apply for remaining spare seats on a concessionary basis.

Bus Éireann pointed out that under the Primary School Transport Scheme, the availability of concessionary transport varies from year to year. In situations where there are more concessionary ticket applicants than bus seats, the rules were that school bus routes will not be extended or altered; additional vehicles will not be introduced, nor will larger vehicles or extra trips using existing vehicles be provided to cater for children travelling on a concessionary basis. And no extra State cost will be incurred.