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Upset at school bus policy

DENISE PIPER
Last updated 09:46 05/06/2012

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Whangarei Leader

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A school bus policy is causing nightmares for some parents who say it is divisive and takes away freedom of choice.

But the Ministry of Education says taxpayers should not foot the bill if students decide not to attend their nearest school.

The policy means students who go to a school that is not their closest cannot use a school bus unless they pay for the service and get permission from the school bypassed.

The cost ranges from $135 a term to $2 for each bus trip.

Earlier this year Maungakaramea and Waiotira Primary Schools decided not to grant permission for students to attend Tauraroa Area School.

For some families this means younger students are not allowed to use the same bus that their older siblings use – secondary school students are not affected because there is no other secondary school nearby.

A backlash from parents has seen the schools delay refusal until next year.

Parent Ivan Martinac says Maungakaramea School is using legislation to "bully" kids into attending its school.

His son Skye has attended Tauraroa Area School along with his older brother and sister for two years.

Refusing to let him board the school bus with his siblings is absurd, Mr Martinac says, and not in the best interests of the child.

"They're taking away freedom of choice, they've divided my family and forced further financial hardship on me."

Mr Martinac says intermediate-aged students should be allowed to use the bus, because Maungakaramea takes intermediate students to Tauraroa to use its technology resources.

Tauraroa Area School principal Grant Burns says Tauraroa is in a unique situation.

Tauraroa was made an area school in the 1940s because it was in the middle of a cluster of primary schools. But nowadays Maungakaramea is only 10 minutes away and parents are choosing to send all their children to the area school, he says.

Mr Burns says area schools should be exempt from the policy like special character schools such as Pompallier Catholic College.

However he admits 100 students from town who want to attend Tauraroa have to use their own special bus, at a cost of $1200 a year each.

Ministry of Education resourcing group manager John Clark says the bus policy is there to support a viable network of schools. "Parents and caregivers are free to choose the school their children attend. However, the taxpayer cannot fund all the choices that parents and students make."

Mr Clark says Maungakaramea and Waiotira Schools are within their rights to refuse permission.

Maungakaramea School did not respond by press time.

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