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(UK) Belfast: 5 y.o. nonverbal, autistic student loses transport to school

Sept 8, 2023, NI: North Belfast child 'left in limbo' as Education Authority suspend school transport
A child from Belfast has been "left in limbo" as the Education Authority has suspended their school transport.
Rhiannon Gray's son Ollie, from North Belfast. has non-verbal autism and attends St Gerard's School. His first day of P2 was on Friday, September 1, when he was safely able to get to and from school.

However, on Monday afternoon, Ollie was left outside school for 40 minutes after his school day ended. Rhiannon then received a call to say there was no afternoon transport arranged for him, leaving the five-year-old without a way home….

After calling the Education Authority and being assured the issue would be resolved for Wednesday, as the school was closed on Tuesday, he was taken home by a different driver and arrived home an hour late.

Following this, Rhiannon attempted to get the situation resolved. She said: "I rang 17 times this morning before actually getting to speak to someone who took my details and ensured I would be contacted.

"I received a phone call at 11.20am to say the actual driver of my son's bus was off sick and it was not the EA's responsibility to arrange cover even though my son returns home on a yellow Education Authority bus and that it was their responsibility to pick him up, baring in mind I don't drive and live on the other side of Belfast.
"When I informed them of this and asked what they recommended I do as I don't drive and the price of a taxi would be extortionate, I was told to 'get a bus' Which means a bus into the city centre and then one up to the school or walking onto the Falls and getting a Glider then walking down the Blacks Road.

"All with an autistic child who doesn't take well to change. I again had to rely on a family member to come out of work and bring me to get my son [on Thursday]."

Rhiannon has been trying to contact the Education Authority regarding Ollie's school transport in the coming week since this, claiming they have been "left in limbo" not knowing what will happen.

She said it's a wider issue affecting many children with special educational needs throughout Northern Ireland.
"The EA just don't seem to care. Children with special and additional needs are treated like second-class citizens in this country and it's disgusting," Rhiannon added.

The Education Authority said they are limited in what they can say regarding individual cases due to their legal obligation under the law to protect the personal data of children, young people, and their families.

In relation to this incident, a spokesperson for the Education Authority told Belfast Live: "We are disappointed that the experience on this occasion has not been to the standard we would expect, and we are continuing to work with the family to confirm arrangements….


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