Mother has to drive 400kms a week with son behind school bus as it takes his twin to same school

Mother has to drive 400kms a week with son behind school bus as it takes his twin to same school
Marie Devine and her twin boys. Pic: Seamus Farrelly

A Meath mother waves her son off on the school bus each morning and then has to jump into the car to drive his twin 20kms to the same school.

Marie Devine drives 400kms each week to school because the bus for children with special educational needs will only accommodate one of the twins who has autism, despite having spare seats.

The Ballivor mum enrolled eight-year-old twins Michael and James into Clocha Rince, Moyvalley, Co. Kildare, as it was the nearest school that had places available in both mainstream education for Michael and in a special unit for children with autism for James.

She says she was advised to apply for a place for James on the school transport bus for children with special educational needs and that, if the bus had spare seats, they would take siblings.

However, only James was accommodated on the bus by the Department of Education and Skills who denied Michael's application as he did "not meet the criteria and is therefore not eligible under the terms of the scheme".

Marie said: "I wanted the twins to continue their education together and this was the nearest school I could find with places available for both. The school also integrates the unit with mainstream classes for a few hours a day so James and Michael are in the same room together.

"This is their second year in the school and they are both doing fantastic. I was advised when they started to apply for a place for James on the bus and told that if there was a spare seat, the bus would accommodate siblings.

"James was accepted and Michael wasn't which is fine because Michael hasn't special educational needs but there are spare seats on the bus and I'd be willing to pay for the seat.

"Now every day, I wave James off on the bus and then have to get into the car with Michael straightaway and follow the bus to the school. It's an 80km trip each day going down and then back to collect Michael."

"The nearest bus pick-up point to the school for a bus for Michael is 15km away so it doesn't make sense to drive him there when the school is only 5kms further."

Marie has appealed the decision to the Department but was again turned down and has appealed to the Ombudsman for Children who is looking into the matter.

She said: "I can completely understand if Michael wasn't allowed on the bus if all the seats were taken by children with educational needs but there are spare seats on the bus every single day.

"If it was the other way around and James wasn't allowed on the bus because he has special needs, it would be classed as discriminatory."

The school, in a letter of support to the School Transport Appeals Board in support of the Devines said: "We were not seeking additional resources. There is an available seat on the bus.

"It travels at the required times and already stops at the house. It makes no sense that one child should travel on the bus while parents must drive behind it transporting a sibling to school.

Marie Devine and her twin boys.Pic: Seamus Farrelly
Marie Devine and her twin boys.Pic: Seamus Farrelly

"Currently the only other alternative is that the parents transport both children. This poses a number of difficulties for their child with autism, where routine and developing independence are vitally important."

Meath West Aontu TD Peadar Toibin described the situation of a mum "having to drive the same distance from Malin Head to Mizen Head" as "shocking".

Mr Toibin said: "I understand that the Minister has a duty of care to all its students who take the bus. But there is a common-sense deficit here.

"It seems to me that this is the triumph of bureaucracy over logic. That a mother has to drive the distance from Malin Head to Mizen Head, 400km, the full length of Ireland to bring one child to school while another sibling is getting the bus to do exactly the same route, door to door, is shocking.

"This is bad for the children, it's certainly bad for their mother and it makes no environmental sense."

"We need as a country to be investing more into public transport. We also need flexibility in Ministerial policy to allow for the lives of real people. I call on the Minister to fix this shocking situation."

In a statement, the Department of Education said it doesn't comment on individual cases.

It added: "School transport is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department. In the 2018/19 school year over 117,500 children, including over 13,000 children with special educational needs, transported in over 5,000 vehicles on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country covering over 100 million kilometres annually at a cost of over €200m in 2018. .

"Minister McHugh has sanctioned an additional €1m on the school transport budget to allow for temporary alleviation measures to address a shortage of school transport capacity on the post-primary scheme in 2019. The cost of these measures is to be given to those areas where there is a significant concentration of post-primary children who have paid on time for the 2019/2020 school year and who are attending their second closest school.

"A number of measures have been confirmed to alleviate some of the capacity issues in the areas of highest demand in some parts of the country. Bus Éireann continues to work with the Department of Education and Skills to process applications and design routes to ensure that all eligible pupils who paid on time are facilitated with school transport.

"In doing this they are endeavouring to facilitate as many concessionary pupils as possible where capacity exists. Work is also ongoing with Bus Éireann to assess where limited resources can be invested to ease pressures in other parts of the country.


More in this Section

Man, 30s, dies following stabbing incident in Dublin; two men arrestedMan, 30s, dies following stabbing incident in Dublin; two men arrested

One northbound lane of M8 reopens following surface floodingOne northbound lane of M8 reopens following surface flooding

Councillors who bowed out at May's local elections to receive retirement gratuitiesCouncillors who bowed out at May's local elections to receive retirement gratuities

Brexit deal can be negotiated in time for EU summit, insists GovernmentBrexit deal can be negotiated in time for EU summit, insists Government


Lifestyle

To instantly power up your look, veer towards the hard shoulder.Bold shoulder: How to instantly power up your look

Plums are a wonderful autumn fruit, useful for all sorts of recipes both sweet and savoury. In Ireland we are blessed with wonderfully sweet plums.Currabinny Cooks: Juicy plums work for both sweet and savoury dishes

The rise of home skincare devices doesn't mean that salons and clinics no longer serve a purpose.The Skin Nerd: Don’t try this at home — new treatments in the salon

Millions of gamers watched Fortnite reach breaking point on Sunday night, with ten seasons of mysterious storyline culminating in meteors hitting the island and everything disappearing.GameTech: End of beginning for Fortnite as Chapter 2 finally goes live

More From The Irish Examiner