Some schoolchildren are spending up to four hours a day on the school bus, just to get to and from school, according to the latest annual report by the children’s rights commissioner for Flanders, Bruno Vanobbergen. “How much flexibility can we ask of our children,” he writes.
An estimated 550 children attending Flemish schools spend at least 90 minutes each way between home and school, five days a week, the commissioner’s figures show. Complaints about school made up the largest single group among the 1,224 complaints received.
A particular problem is the sector of special education, where children are entitled to free travel to and from school. The problem comes from the scarcity of special schools, forcing children into long daily trips.
“I am the mother of four children, three of whom are autistic,” reads one complaint quoted in the report. “Two years ago I decided to go over to special education. They go with the school bus. First, they spent three hours in the bus. Now the timetable has changed, and they are spending three and three quarter to even four hours in the bus.”
That case is far from exceptional. The VRT’s news magazine for young people reported on twin sisters Anaïs and Lily, who go to school in Deerlijk in West Flanders. The result: they arrive at school exhausted by the early rise required and the fatigue of the journey, while later in the day – or rather in the evening – they arrive home too tired to tackle homework, school projects and so on properly.
When the girls are taken to school by car by their mother, as they are on Wednesdays and Fridays, the trip from home in Aalbeke, 20km away, takes fifteen minutes.
Vanobbergen is now calling for a limit of two hours travel time in total for any child per day.