17 June 2005

Belfast Telegraph

Parents may go to court on buses removal
Fury over board move to cut school services

By Kathryn Torney
17 June 2005

A group of Ulster parents may take a judicial review against an education board's decision to withdraw school bus services from their area, it has emerged.

The Western Education and Library Board announced last month that it would withdraw 18 services involving 25 buses and 1,600 pupils from the end of this month.

The WELB had intended to make the cuts on a gradual basis over a number of years, but claimed it was forced to scrap all services at the end of this school year due to the "severe" budget reductions imposed on the board by the Government.

Mary McDonnell, a parent representative, told the Belfast Telegraph that parents at 22 schools are currently getting legal advice on the possibility of taking a judicial review against the decision.

"They are supposed to give us notice of this kind of decision but in the end they only told us four weeks before the services were due to be cut. We have a barrister looking into it," she said.

"I don't think the WELB has put much thought into this. I think this is just one way they are trying to force rural schools into closure."

The chief executive of the Western board and senior officers met with a number of school principals to discuss the issue on Wednesday.

A WELB spokesperson said: "The board carried out a major review of arrangements for concessionary transport in 2003.

"The outcome was a decision that where a transport service can be shown to be no longer required for pupils with transport entitlement, it should be withdrawn.

"It is important to emphasise that the only routes affected are those which no longer are needed in order to accommodate pupils who have an entitlement to transport assistance.

"On all other routes pupils who have already been allocated a concessionary seat will continue to be able to travel on a concessionary basis, provided that the seat does not have to be allocated to a pupil with transport entitlement.

"No new concessionary seats will be allocated, however, to pupils who live within statutory walking distance of a suitable school but who prefer to attend a more distant school."

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