By Louise Walsh
'Where's my seat - I've got sore feet,' was the message on placards to Bus Eireann this morning as 12 stranded Meath post-primary students walked some 10km to get to school.
Parents and their children - mostly first year students - staged a walking protest after 7am after they were refused access onto the school bus from their home in Kildalkey to their school in Trim.
They left the village at the same time as the school bus that they had hoped to be on departed but walked the more direct route into Trim.
Angry parents claim they have been left high and dry with no transport for their children and some may now face going to the library in Trim after school until their parents can finish work to collect them.
One of the students had been on the bus for the four years but was told that this year, there is no place for her.
Mum Una Swords from Moyview is now looking for an end to the so-called concessionary seats and ensure a pupil has a place on the bus for the duration of their second-level education.
She was told that there is no room for either of her daughters on the bus this year, despite paying fees upfront.
"I received an email telling me that not only will Caoimhe (13) not be able to get the school bus to start post-primary this year but that my 17-year old daughter Aoife, who has been getting the bus for the last four years is no longer eligible either.
"Each year, we have to apply and pay up front €300 per child for a place on the bus and then wait until last minute for approval. We're told the seats for everyone are concessionary which means the student isn't guaranteed a seat for the full duration of their education.
Una said that the Department of Education have informed some of the parents that the catchment school for the area is in Athboy.
"There's only about a mile in the difference and why can't parents have a choice in where their children receive secondary education. We shouldn't have to go to just one school. We choose schools for various reasons and the majority of pupils go to secondary school from here to Trim."
"Most parents work and have to leave early so it would mean dropping their child to walk the streets of Trim at 7 in the morning. That's just no on.
"Some parents really have no alternative way of getting children to school from here.
"Kildalkey is growing in population, with a brand new national school about to open. This problem is going to get worse as more and more kids each year graduate to post-primary level.
"The Department of Education should review the bus situation and have one that just caters for children in this area, given the numbers that have applied and will in the future
"They should have been aware from the number of applications involved well in advance of this month and have had plans in place to transport these children.
"But without forward planning, what are we going to do in the meantime," she asked.
The parents also called a meeting last Thursday night to highlight to other parents the problem they could face when their own children start post-primary.
"We had about 40 parents there and some local representatives who are going to call for an end to these concessionary places."
Local Cllr Noel French said: "This can't go on that parents in rural areas are left unsure from year to year, if their children can get to school.
Sinn Fein Deputy Peadar Toibin who also walked with the parents said: "This is absolutely wrong that seats get taken off children two weeks before school starts and some of these children have been on the bus for years.
"It's another attack on rural Ireland and the Government needs to start reinstating and improving services in our villages and small towns."
A spokesperson for the Department for Education and Skills said: "Children who are eligible for school transport and who have completed the application process on time will be accommodated on school transport services where such services are in operation.
"Children who are not eligible for school transport, but who completed the application process on time, will be considered for spare seats that may exist after eligible children have been facilitated: such seats are referred to as concessionary seats.
"Where the number of applications for school transport on a concessionary basis exceeds the number of spare seats available, tickets are allocated using a random selection process.
"Under the terms of the scheme, the availability of concessionary transport varies from year to year, based on the space capacity on the buses running on all of the various routes.
Bus Eireann has confirmed that, following the random selection process for concessionary seats, a number of children from the Kildalkey area who are not eligible for school transport to Trim have not been allocated a ticket.
They added: "The terms of the school transport schemes are applied equitably on a national basis."