Eastbourne mum fights for disabled son’s transport

Leanna and her son Billy
Leanna and her son Billy

An Eastbourne mother is fighting for the right for her disabled son to be able to get transport to college.

Leanna Forse, 36, of Mulberry Close was told that her 16-year-old son Billy, who suffers a unique chromosome disorder, does not fit the criteria for the council to cover the costs of a taxi to his college.

While he has always travelled to school this way, it was revoked when he turned 16 under the county council’s post-16 transport policy, put in place at the end of 2015, which only covers transport costs in “exceptional circumstances”.

“If having to leave my job in order to take Billy to and from school is not an ‘exceptional circumstance’, I don’t know what is,” Leanna said.

A full time teacher, Leanna is unable to take Billy to college herself and he cannot use public transport as his disorder means that he is like a nine month-old both physically and mentally.

The single mother has therefore been forced to arrange with the school she teaches at the temporary solution of missing lessons in order to take Billy to and from his college.

Staff at Hazel Court School, where he goes, have volunteered to look after Billy early in the morning so his mother can get to her job at an acceptable time. Billy enjoys going to college and seeing his friends, and it is also where he gets therapy.

“It is a complete nightmare. I’m not after something for nothing; I just want my son to have the same opportunities as any other 16 year old,” Leanna added.

It would cost around £7,200 a year to fund the taxi herself. The other alternative is that she would have to quit her job.

Leanna is taking the issue to an ombudsman, and is being supported by charity Embrace, East Sussex and local politicians Stephen Lloyd and Caroline Ansell.

In a statement, The Eastbourne MP said,“Today, I have spoken to the leader of East Sussex County Council asking him to look into this case, which I have been involved in by supporting Leanna and Billie during their appeal.

“I have a great deal of sympathy for the situation this family finds itself in. I understand the need for policy, but this young person turning 16 has no real bearing on his ability to get to school due to the level of his disabilities, and I have made this clear.

“Flexibility must be applied so Billie can attend his classes and Leanna can continue her important work as a teacher.

“I know Leanna wants to take this case to the ombudsman and I have pledged her my support in her doing this.

“In addition, I have also been approached by the national charity Contact a Family, who want to raise the issue of schools transport for special needs students in Parliament to identify solutions. I will be working with them, and in my role as a member of the All Party Parliamentary Group on disability, to reach that aim.”

An East Sussex County Council spokesperson said: “We are able to offer travel support to parents of post-16 students with special educational needs and disabilities in exceptional circumstances only.

“A number of factors will be considered when determining whether a student is eligible, including the length and complexity of their journey, whether the parent or carer could reasonably be expected to provide transport and whether they have a suitable vehicle.

“Unfortunately, the student in this case did not meet the criteria and this decision was upheld after being considered on appeal by a panel of councillors.”

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