The family of a five-year-old with cerebral palsy may be forced to remove her from school after council bosses put the brakes on her free transport.
Casey Williams, from Ribbleton in Preston, was diagnosed with the crippling disease last year and since February was provided with a free taxi to take her to and from home in Marl Hill Crescent and Blessed Sacrament Catholic Primary School.
When the youngster first started school mum Sarah had to push her in a baby buggy until she got too heavy then carried her but had to give that up when she became pregnant.
Now, Sarah says because Casey has been kitted out with a wheelchair Lancashire County Council said she no longer qualified for free transport.
Mum-of-four Sarah said she was prepared to put up with wheeling her youngest daughter to school, but having become a mum again recently she now finds it impossible to manage a wheelchair and a buggy at the same time. She is appealing against the ruling but said that if she loses she will have “no choice but to keep her off school.”
At present she is relying on her mother looking after seven-week-old baby Kaylen every morning while she takes Casey and her two older children to school.
She said: “After school I have to rely on my eight-year-old pushing the baby in the pram so I can push the wheelchair. That isn’t fair on her. It means she can’t go to any after school clubs or anything like that because I need her help. I can’t keep relying on my mum.”
Casey’s grandfather Keith Williams said he was “disgusted” with the council’s decision. He added: “I can’t believe they say she doesn’t meet the criteria. No-one has been here to see my grand-daughter so how can they say that?”
Single parent Sarah said the county council allocated Casey, who wears a leg splint, a free taxi for the 0.7 mile journey until the end of the school term in July so she contacted the authorities before the start of the new academic year to checks arrangements for September and was told Casey didn’t meet criteria, which requires councils to provide transport for primary school children living more than two miles from their nearest available school or three miles from a secondary school.
Sarah said Casey was only diagnosed with the muscular condition, which affects her walking, last year and was referred for a wheelchair by her doctor after she had started school. She said that her initial application for help with transport was refused but an appeal panel granted it because the family was waiting for a wheelchair.
Sarah, a cleaner, said: “If I didn’t have a new baby I wouldn’t be asking for help at all. My mum has to come up and look after the baby while I take Casey to school. I can’t push them both – Casey is too heavy now.”
Keith said: “As long as I am on this planet I will fight for Casey’s rights. Every child with a disability has their own problems. There must be some give and take, surely.”
Phil Huddart, Lancashire County Council’s school transport manager, said: “We don’t discuss individual cases in detail because of confidentiality. These cases are often more complicated than they appear and we are still awaiting the outcome of a further appeal. We can offer help with school transport under certain circumstances although assessments must always focus on the needs of the individual child, not the situation of other family members. To qualify for transport help, children are also expected to attend the nearest suitable school to where they live.
“When an appeal is made it is a chance for both sides to look at the situation afresh and consider any alternatives which may be appropriate.”
Lancashire spends more than £16m a year providing home to school taxis and buses for youngsters with special educational needs and disabilities. The cost per pupil works out at around £5,500.