Criticism of school bus drop-off point

Buses parked  at St Benet Biscop School, Bedlington.
Buses parked at St Benet Biscop School, Bedlington.

A controversial row over segregation on buses in Northumberland has once again come to the fore.

The News Post Leader revealed in September 2012 how rules introduced by Northumberland County Council banned youngsters from different religions from mixing on school buses.

Parents of students at St Benet Biscop Catholic High School in Bedlington launched a petition protesting against the decision – branded a form of religious apartheid – to run separate buses for Catholic and non-Catholic youngsters.

And after a dramatic u-turn, Catholic and non-Catholic students were then able to use the same buses, if non-entitled students paid for a bus pass up front.

However, Cherie Norton, whose two children attend the school, has said the problem has still yet to be resolved, with a change in drop-off points for non-Catholic children being introduced.

Mrs Norton, who is South African, said: “I thought that after coming from a country where I had to live with discrimination and segregation for most of my life against the colour of my skin through Apartheid in South Africa, I was putting these types of behaviour behind me.

“I come to England to escape discrimination against the colour of my skin, only to find it is now against my religion.

“How is this right and how is it fair? How on earth in the 21st century do they still get away with it?

“This is a major problem. There still seems to be this barrier facing children that are non-Catholics.

“I was under the impression that this mind-set and archaic attitude had changed and thought that is was all resolved. Obviously not.”

Mrs Norton says the original bus route that was put forward had a drop-off point at the workingmen’s club in Ashington, but she was then informed just before the new term started that the drop-off point would now be the Elephant pub.

“This is a considerable distance away from where we live and it is unacceptable for the children to walk in terms of the distance and safety,” she said.

“Not just that, my daughter can not walk this distance due to a knee problem.

“I am not Catholic and because of this Northumberland County Council is refusing to let my children on to a Catholic bus that will drop them off at the workingmen’s club.

“The council and all bodies involved that has any contact with children have an obligation to safeguarding the children.

“Well my children will be far from safe if they should make this journey, and also as my daughter is unable to walk long distance through a bone fide medical condition.”

A council spokesman said: “The council does not provide free transport for any pupils going to St Benet Biscop’s from the Ashington area until they reach the end of Year 8.

“Mrs Norton’s youngest child is in Year 7 and is now travelling with his elder sister on the school bus funded by St Benet Biscop with contributions made by the parents.

“The school have arranged for this bus service to be diverted so that Mrs Norton’s children are picked up and dropped off closer to their home.”