Parents eligible for free school transport will get €5 a day if children do not use bus
Move follows safety fears among parents in light of public health advice
Some parents have expressed concern that their children may be at risk if travelling on schoolbuses. Photograph: iStock
Parents with children eligible for free school transport who decide not to use it due to safety fears during the coronavirus pandemic will be entitled to a grant of up to €5.10 per school day.
This money is aimed at assisting families in arranging private transport to get their children to schools, which are due to start reopening from next week.
Some parents have expressed concern that their children may be at risk if travelling on schoolbuses, where facilitating social distancing may be an issue despite public health guidance recommending such a move.
Minister for Education Norma Foley said on Friday that all parents eligible for free transport will receive letters outlining their entitlement to a grant.
The payment will be based on the distance a family resides from their school of eligibility with a maximum daily allowance payable of €5.10 per day.
About 120,000 children travelled on schoolbuses daily last year. Roughly half of these children were eligible for free transport, while others were concessionary – or paid-for – ticket holders.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Education said grants would be paid at the end of the school year following the receipt of relevant documentation confirming the number of days of school attended.
“For those children who are eligible for transport under the terms of the school transport scheme and whose parents decide not to use transport for the 2020/2021 school year, arising from the most recent health advice, the department will provide a grant to support them with the cost of private transport arrangements,” the spokeswoman said.
There was confusion earlier this week about what public health rules would apply on schoolbuses after a change in advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET).
It advised that secondary students should both maintain physical distancing and wear face coverings while on schoolbuses, in line with wider rules on public transport. This was a change to earlier advice which stated that physical distancing was not required.
The updated advice says primary school students should physically distance “where possible” on buses, but do not need to wear face coverings. The department on Thursday said there would be a “rolling implementation” of these new guidelines to provide for physical distancing on secondary schoolbus services.
It is understood that hundreds of additional buses will now be needed to transport some 68,000 secondary students to school each day in compliance with the new guidelines.
A spokesman for the department said discussions were under way with Bus Éireann – which operates school transport services – so that any services that can operate from the start of the school year at 50 per cent capacity would do so.
He said other post-primary transport services would be re-organised and additional services would be provided as required to allow for physical distancing “over the coming period”.
In the meantime, he said a range of measures will be in place to ensure the safe operation of school transport services. They include pre-assigned seating to ensure children sit beside siblings or classmates, additional hygiene and cleaning measures on board schoolbuses, and the wearing of face coverings for children over the age of 13 years of age.
He said the department welcomed NPHET advice and arrangements for primary school transport will proceed as planned when schools reopen. These services will operate fully when schools reopen, with additional measures and hygiene requirements in place.
Secondary school services will also commence operation when schools reopen, with additional measures and hygiene requirements in place, and with the “rolling implementation of measures to provide physical distancing on the post-primary services as required”, he added.