WITH social distancing expected to be in place for the foreseeable future it may lead to a further shortage of school bus seats for secondary school students this autumn.
At a meeting last week, councillors were united in calling for a complete overhaul of the school bus transport system, which has come in for sharp criticism in recent years.
During the past academic year several parents in the Ballineen and Enniskeane area were forced to drive their children to schools in Bandon due to a shortage of seats on school buses.
Cllr William O’Leary (FF), raised a motion calling for the Department of Education and Skills to carry out a full review of the school catchment area with regards to second level institutions.
‘The catchment areas are no longer fit for purpose, they are outdated and completely discriminatory against families, students and schools. I have vivid memories of last summer, and it’s already began this year, of the stress and anxiety of parents voices over the phone genuinely believing their children will not get a seat on the school bus,’ said Cllr O’Leary.
‘Owing to Covid-19 it is clear that we are not sure what form school transport will take for the coming year and I accept that.’ Cllr O’Leary said it’s clear that the current catchment criteria does not take into account the tradition of families attending particular schools historically.
‘This is about taking the stress away from many families and using common sense. Times have changed and populations have increased and it’s a no brainer for the Department to carry out a review.’
His colleague, Cllr Joe Carroll seconded the motion and said what had gone on over the past few years, particularly in Ballineen and Enniskeane last summer, regarding school bus seats was nothing ‘short of disgraceful.’
‘We saw mothers in West Cork driving after the school bus with one child on the bus and the other in the car.
‘This wouldn’t happen in cuckoo land and it’s as backward as you would find anywhere around the world. It’s a system not catering for anything,’ said Cllr Carroll.
‘Catchment areas are a thing of the past and the Department needs to open their eyes and see what’s going on.’
Cllr Danny Collins (Ind) said too many rules and regulations are being made in Dublin and called for a total review.
‘I have a situation in Glengarriff whereby a family of three – one in Leaving Cert, one in Transition Year and a First Year – have been told they now have to go on concessionary bus tickets to a school in Kenmare across the border,’ said Cllr Collins.
‘Their first two children had been going to school in Bantry all along and now they’re being told that they have to go to Kenmare.
‘I can see this situation getting a lot worse with social distancing in place.’
Cllr John O’Sullivan (FG) said the school bus transport system to say the least is ‘broken’ and has to be sorted and said this needs a full comprehensive review that should take in all schools including national schools.
Cllr Declan Hurley (Ind) said that parents are facing into another school year of frustration in obtaining bus seats as the Departments of Transport and Education have failed to carry out long overdue review of the guidelines.
‘The shortage of bus seats is going to be further impacted this year with the addition of Covid-19 restrictions and this issue needs to be addressed by the Departments in question once a new government is formed,’ said Declan Hurley.
Cllr Paul Hayes (Ind) said it’s a problem they face each summer but it was particularly bad in Ballineen and Enniskeane last year where several students were denied school bus tickets.
‘The whole system needs to be reviewed and there needs to be an element of flexibility brought in to the system and some solutions are simple like allowing a bigger bus serve a particular route but that’s not happening,’ said Cllr Hayes.
‘There are also environmental issues too and we are trying to promote climate change but then you’re having cars following buses each morning down the road and it certainly doesn’t bode well for an environmental point of view.’
Cllr Kevin Murphy (FG) pointed out that the system has been ‘broken for years and years’ and said little progress was made last year when it reared its ‘ugly head.’
‘All of us have been inundated with calls begging us to make sure their children are not left at the side of the road,’ said Cllr Murphy.