Do the Regional Transport Authority rules really forbid parents of pre-school children from travelling in school buses by rotation to ensure the safety of their little ones? Or are schools simply unwilling to risk exposing themselves by letting parents board school buses and see how children are transported to and from school?
Less than three weeks after a three-year-old girl of a prestigious Juhu school was molested inside her own school bus by the bus cleaner, parents across the city say they still do not have a clear answer to their main demand: that they be allowed to take turns and travel in the buses to make sure no one dares to molest the children.
Several schools have shot down the proposal citing an RTO rule while others have asked parents to pay up additional bus fees if they want to travel in the bus.
Parents of Podar Jumbo Kids, for instance, received a circular issued by the school last week, informing them of several commendable steps the school was taking in this regard, but shooting down the suggestion about one parent volunteer per school bus.
The minutes of the bus committee meeting of January 30, 2013 at Podar Jumbo Kids, notes: “As per RTO rules, parents or any adult will not be allowed to board the registered school bus. If found on board, a fine will be charged, and hence parent volunteers in the bus is not a feasible solution. But if such volunteers are appointed by the school, the RTO could allow one of them to travel in a bus as a special case only for surprise/random checks from time to time.”
The statement follows a meeting between school authorities, RTO representatives and parents at Podar.
What the RTO said
But when Sunday MiD DAY contacted the Regional Transport Office (RTO), senior officials denied the existence of such a rule. Speaking to SMD, the Deputy RTO said, “The act is silent on whether parents should be allowed to travel in a school bus. In effect there is nothing that expressly prevents parents from travelling in a school bus with their kids. But on the other hand the law does mention that the school bus is exclusively meant for students apart from the bus conductor, lady attendant and bus driver.”
This ambiguity in the law, feel parents, is what many schools are using, to keep them from forming voluntary groups and travel in the bus.
When contacted, Swati Popat Vats, President of Podar Education Network and Director, Podar Jumbo Kids said, “This point was raised by parents. But when many of them (parents) wanted to travel in the school bus, we said it was not possible. The RTO permit is given to a school bus for ferrying children and more than a certain number of adults are not allowed. However, we are happy if parents form a volunteer group. We can empower them to conduct surprise checks.”
She added that she would re-check with the RTO about the rules. “Safety of our children will always remain our top priority,” she said.
Of course Podar is not the only school where such confusion reigns. Many others are still contemplating whether parents should be allowed in the school bus.
A senior staff member from Jamnabai Narsee School, pleading anonymity, said, “Our PTA (Parent Teacher Association) and the management are in talks on this issue. We already have lady marshals in all our buses after the recent incidents shook all of us.”
M P Sharma, director, GD Somani School at Cuffe Parade, said, “Parents have not made any such suggestions so far. But in any case such a step is simply not feasible. We cannot allow a parent to travel in a school bus.”
Raj Aloni, principal of Ramsheth Thakur Public School, (CBSE), Kharghar, said, “We already have at least one female teacher travelling in all school buses along with a lady attendant.”
Prashant Chavan, parent of a three-year-old who goes to a suburban school, said, “I think all schools should allow the PTA to appoint a few volunteers who would keep check on all bus routes by rotation.”
With schools now making parents sign forms that mention they are putting their children in school buses knowing that the buses are run by private contractors and the school has only limited responsibility, parents say they are clueless as to how to protect their children.