Monday 22 January 2018

Donegal parents told to send kids to overcrowded school or pay €1,200 per child to travel to school of your choice

Greg Harkin

MORE than 40 children are spending their last day at primary school today, not knowing which secondary school they will attend in September.

Officials representing Education Minister Ruairi Quinn have told parents to send their children to an over-crowded school – just weeks after opening a multi-million euro alternative with empty classrooms.

Parents of 45 children were told they must go to the nearest school if they still want subsidised transport. If they don’t, they will have up pay to €1,200 per child to travel to the brand new school of their choice.

The pupils are all from east Donegal and their siblings and parents traditionally go to schools in Stranorlar.

But because the over-crowded Deele College in Raphoe is just over a mile nearer, they’ve been told they must go there instead.

Parents' groups have branded the decision ‘barmy’.

The Minister boasted about the €5M extension to Finn Valley College in Stranorlar when he officially opened it in May. He said it would increase capacity from 264 students to 325.

The development included a brand new gym hall.

At nearby St Columba’s College there is even more room for new pupils – the college has 856 pupils on the rolls and can take up to 1,100.

However Deele College where the children have been told they must go to if they want subsidised bus passes has capacity for just 460 pupils, but has more than 100 extra children on the rolls already. Many are taught in prefabs.

“It’s a crazy decision,” said parent Donal Foy who runs a campaign group, “you just couldn’t make this up.

“What makes it more silly is that there is no cost difference between our children getting a bus to Raphoe and getting a bus to Stranorlar, even though Stranorlar is slightly further away.

“The Minister is supporting an ill-thought Fianna Fail transport policy forcing pupils to go to schools they don’t want to go to and doesn’t save the State a cent.

“It will of course only save the money if we comply with the order and our children pay for bus fares to the schools of their choice.”

Mr Foy met the Minister during his visit to Co Donegal in May. Mr Quinn later praised the “dignified” protest and promised to investigate the parents’ claims.

Under Department rules children pay €350 a year for a bus pass to “eligible” schools which from September must be the nearest available.

If they don’t, they must pay up to €1,200 to go to a school further away - with means 45 children at three primary schools in Castlefin, Ballylastin and Donnyloop will leave this Friday not knowing where they will go to school this September.

The policy will hit thousands of families nationwide this autumn.

“The anxiety and stress this has caused to 11 and 12 year old children and their parents is terrible,” said Mr Foy.

“Even 5th class pupils are already talking about what will happen to them in a year’s time. It is heartbreaking.

“The road to Stranorlar from where we live is a main national road. It’s part of the Finn Valley hinterland and easy to get to.

“Mr Quinn wants our children to travel pot-hole ridden roads to be taught in prefabs when there are brand new classrooms waiting for them just up the road. It’s madness and saves this State of ours not one cent.”

A spokesperson for Mr Quinn said Department officials met with the Finn Valley School Transport Action Group this week but that there are no plans to bend the rules for the 45 pupils.

“The group outlined their concerns in relation to the impact of the post-primary changes to the school transport scheme being introduced from the 2012/2013 school year, due to budgetary decisions announced in December 2010,” said the spokeswoman.

“These changes were made by the last, Fianna Fáil-led, government. Given Ireland's economic circumstances, savings have to be made across the education budget. The Department officials provided clarity on the full impact of the changes and their application throughout the country.”

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