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Kids with free school transport may have to find alternative ways of getting to school when they re-open

Parents whose children are entitled to free school transport have been asked to find other ways of getting them to school.

The plea comes after it was admitted that not all Derbyshire students entitled to free school transport will be provided with it by the county council when schools reopen.

Derbyshire County Council first raised the alarm about maintaining social distancing on buses last week.

It had said that to maintain two-metre distancing, a 73-seater bus would have a capacity of just 16 pupils while a 53-seater coach will only be able to cater for 10 students.

This could leave the council needing to source many more school buses – potentially with adaptations to make them compliant – at what could be a substantial cost.

These costs and details have not yet been disclosed by the council with schools set to reopen in just over a week on June 1.

This week the council has written an “urgent request” to parents who send their children to school by county-provided transport.

It says that “severe restrictions with social distancing along with vehicle and workforce issues with contractors, and the tight timescales” have forced it to make changes to its usual services.

The authority says that it will not be providing Year 12 (sixth form) students with school transport, despite being entitled to it.

Many of these students will live in rural areas of Derbyshire where council-organised transport is their only option, with country lanes more precarious to walk or cycle on and many families not owning a car.

This will remain the case “until we have assessed demand and are confident that services can safely cope”.

All “fare payers” who are not entitled to school transport organised by the council will not be allowed on its arranged buses.

These restrictions will remain in place “but no later than the end of the current academic year”.

The council says in its letter to parents: “Wherever possible, students should follow the government advice and not use public transport to get into school.

“They should use other means first, including walking, cycling or being transported by private car.  This may be a more flexible option given the reduced hours of attending school.

“The council is working to reinstate home-to-school transport for the proposed return of year groups 10 and 12 from 1st June 2020.

“They are keen to meet their statutory duty, however as you can appreciate, there remain many challenges before they can do so safely with the current restrictions in place.”

Last week, Iain Peel, the county council’s service director for schools and learning, said transport is now a “hugely complex area” with capacity “dramatically reduced”.

Mr Peel said that there is no extra capacity for school transport.

However, the county council, when approached for comment, said it was getting in touch with its 217 transport providers to determine available capacity.

It said it was talking with its providers about measures which may need to be put in place “for example PPE for some close-contact services or social distancing on larger buses”.

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