School Transport is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department of Education. In the 2019/20 school year over 120,000 children, including over 14,200 children with special educational needs, were transported in over 5,000 vehicles on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country covering over 100 million kilometres at a cost of over €219m in 2019.
The purpose of my Department's School Transport Scheme is, having regard to available resources, to support the transport to and from school of children who reside remote from their nearest school.
Under the terms of the Department's Post Primary School Transport Scheme children are eligible for school transport where they reside not less than 4.8 kilometres from and are attending their nearest school as determined by my Department/Bus Éireann, having regard to ethos and language.
Updated health advice was received from NPHET on the 18th August, which impacts on the operation of post-primary school transport services. This advice stated that for secondary school students on school transport, strict distancing should be ensured in line with that on public transport along with the wearing of face coverings and that primary school students should distance where possible.
Following this advice, the Government also decided that the post-primary scheme (including SEN post-primary services) would commence operation when schools re-open with additional measures in place, such as pre-assigned seating and additional hygiene and cleaning measures on services and with the rolling implementation of measures to provide physical distancing, in line with those required on public transport, which is using 50 per cent of passenger capacity, on the post- primary services as required.
The Department is engaging with Bus Éireann in respect of these plans, in order to implement measures so that any post-primary services that could operate from the start of the school year at 50% capacity are doing so and over the coming period all other post-primary transport services will be re-organised and additional services will be provided as required to allow for physical distancing.
For those children who are eligible for transport under the terms of the post-primary school transport scheme and whose parents decide not to use post-primary transport for the 2020/2021 school year, in light of the impact of most recent health advice by NPHET on the 18th of August , the Department will provide a grant to support them with the cost of private transport arrangements. Parents were asked to inform the Department by Friday the 4th of September if they wished to avail of this option. Officials in School Transport Section are currently liaising with Bus Éireann and with the families who have contacted the Department to enquire about refunds and grants in order to clarify certain queries raised by families and to inform and advise parents of the next steps in the process. Pending clarification on certain queries which may impact the final number of families that may be eligible for a grant, latest figures show that refunds have been requested on tickets for 625 children of which 421 children are eligible for a grant.
In addition, parents of post-primary children who are eligible for transport under the terms of the Department’s Special Needs Transport Scheme were given the option to avail of a grant if they decided not to use transport for the 2020/21 school year. Parents were asked to inform the Department by Friday the 18th of September if they wished to avail of this option. Officials in School Transport Section are currently reviewing the emails received from families and details on the number of children who wish to avail of a grant will be available shortly.
In light of this, full and final information by county is not yet available.