Scoil Mhín na Manrach, the small national school outside of Dungloe that was closed last month, will amalgamate this year with Dungloe national school.
But parents of Mín na Manrach pupils now fear their children will not be eligible for transport to the Dungloe school.
The parents said they want to hear formally from the Department of Education and Skills where their children stand in terms of transport for the coming year.
“It would be a double blow because all we had left in the area was the school,” said Mary Boyle, whose daughter attended Mín na Manrach.
“The least they could do would be to give transport to our children, to bring them to the amalgamated school.”
Parents had been able to walk their children the short distance to Mín na Manrach.
Pearse Doherty, Sinn Féin TD, and his party colleague, Clr Marie-Therese Gallagher, asked the department for clarification and received a response saying that only one of the school’s seven former pupils will have school transport eligibility into Dungloe.
The statement said the determination was made under the Primary School Transport Scheme: children are eligible for transport where they live not less than 3.2 kilometres from and attend their nearest national school, with regard to ethos and language.
Deputy Doherty said the situation was completely unacceptable.
“It has always been the case that, when a school was amalgamated, the students were allowed school transport to the school of amalgamation,” he said.
“Now we have a ridiculous situation whereby students are being refused because it is not classed as their nearest school.
“It is bad enough that a small rural school is being closed without parents and students having the added anxiety of having to deal with the school transport fiasco,” he said.
The Donegal South-West deputy submitted a parliamentary question last week to Ciarán Cannon, TD, Minister of State for school transport, and said he anticipated a response early this week.
“It is not about putting children first. It’s all about money,” Clr Gallagher said.
“At no stage have the feelings of parents and children been taken into consideration.”
For six of the school’s pupils, the nearest school would be Loughanure. But parents said they will not send their children there. Their parish is Dungloe, they said. That is where their children go for First Communion and Confirmation.
“We were thinking since the teacher got a post in Dungloe school and the equipment all the children were using went to the Dungloe school, we just assumed the children would be going to Dungloe too,” said Alice Rodgers, who will have two children in national school this year.
However, she said: “We’ve been given no indication from the department whatsoever.”
“The school was next door to me and now I would have to drive them six miles. It just doesn’t work out for the parents,” said Noreen O’Donnell.
The Loughanure national school has also lost a teacher in the past year and that concerns the Mín na Manrach parents as well. Small rural schools are struggling with new department criteria that require schools to enrol more pupils to retain their teaching staff.
“I’m not going to pull her out of the frying pan into the fire to go through this whole thing again,” Mary Boyle said.
“It’s just another issue of policies that are coming in and not being ‘rural-proofed’,” Clr Gallagher said.
“There is no rural-proofing to protect the rural areas and people’s way of life.”
The councillor added, “It’s the unfairness and lack of clarity by the department that has caused huge anxiety.”
In another school transport issue, Finn Valley parents met recently with department officials who said there will be no change to the transport scheme in which incoming secondary-school students are eligible for transport to the school nearest their home.
The Finn Valley Student Transport Action Group has campaigned against the policy change, saying students from the area traditionally attended secondary school in Stranorlar, but the change makes them eligible for transport to Raphoe schools.
Brid McGrenra, group secretary, said some students who were ineligible for transport to Stranorlar may still have gotten a concessionary ticket for this coming year alone.
“But next year we’re back to the drawing board, so we’re no further forward,” Mrs McGrenra said.
“It looks as though parental choice is gone, no matter what,” she said.
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