File photo of a school bus
“Operation Transportation” has been launched to raise €90,000 for an adapted school bus for St Anne’s School at the Curragh.
St. Anne’s is a special school, which provides education to children who have been assessed as having learning disabilities.
“Many of our children have additional needs such as autism, physical impairments or sensory impairments. A small amount have complex medical needs. There are 88 pupils on roll between the ages of 5 and 18 and the school strives to provide each child with an educational programme that is tailor-made to suit their individual and specific needs,” said parent and Board of Management member, Lorraine Higgins, who has set up a go fund me page for the campaign.
“Our current bus was received from a parent who managed to generate funds for us in 2003. It is now almost 15 years old and costs around €17,000 per year to maintain, this is unsustainable. It has also become very unreliable and has broken down on several occasions with children on board – this, is in spite of many trips to the garage for repairs,” she explained.
The Department of Education does not provide funding for a new bus, or the running costs.
Situated on the fringe of the Curragh Plains, Lorraine points out public transport passes by the school once an hour, but a large percentage of pupils cannot access the buses as they are not wheelchair friendly.
“It can be difficult for students with general learning disabilities to play an active role in the local community at the best of times. Their right to participate fully in all aspects of community life should be acknowledged and encouraged and is an essential part of their education. Learning for some of our pupils is experiential and interactive and hands on activities work the best. For this to happen they first need to be able to access their community.”
She said only 56% of Bus Éireann’s coach fleet is deemed wheelchair accessible.
All children take part in swimming, social training, trips to the library as well as other community activities.
“Significantly this year has seen the launch of the new Junior Cycle Level 2 Learning Programme. Two of the Priority Learning Units included in this curriculum are 'Living in the Community' and 'Preparing for Work.' Therefore access, when required, to local towns is important for the students to achieve in these areas,” added Lorraine.
This currently cannot be done within the public transport system that services this area.
After purchase, the bus will have to be adapted to allow access for at least four adult wheelchairs plus foot passengers. Wheelchair users can require the support of two staff at times so it needs to be at minimum a sixteen seater.
Clamping systems to secure wheelchairs, crash proof floor, electric wheelchair lift, adaptions to doors for easy access, hydraulic step, secure storage for medication and equipment, and grab rails are just some of the modifications needed.
"Financially it is difficult to maintain the current bus as it requires on going attention to keep it up to minimum standard. It is likely that it will not be able to run beyond the end of this year. This will have a tremendous impact on our pupils. Funds will be required as soon as possible," said Lorraine.
It is too expensive to hire transport so fundraising for a new bus is the only option.
To find out more about the campaign click here