PARENTS in Bower are "angry and frustrated" over controversial plans to make them pay up to £94.50 a month to transport a child to Thurso High School after the summer holidays.
They expressed their concerns at a meeting in Bower Hall on Friday night and are now calling on the Highland Council to rethink its proposal.
Parents are unhappy that changes to school contracts will mean they will have to pay £51.30 a month for pupils under 16 years of age and £94.50 for those over 16 who want to go to Thurso High. However, there will be no charge for youngsters from the Bower area who want to attend Wick High school.
The meeting, which was chaired by Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross MP John Thurso, was organised by Bower Community Council.
Secretary Lisa McCulloch, who has a 13-year-old daughter at Thurso High and another daughter due to go there in August, would like to see the fees scrapped.
She described the charges as "horrendous" and stressed she would have to pay £102.60 a month so the teenagers could travel to the school.
"That is a huge amount of money and it is only likely to get worse," she told the Caithness Courier yesterday.
Ms McCulloch said parents hope to arrange a meeting with Highland Council officials before the end of the school term and would like to see the the travel charges removed before the pupils return to school in August.
Landward Caithness councillor Robert Coghill, who highlighted the issue earlier this year, added his voice to the campaign.
"Parents are angry and frustrated by this policy and would like to see it changed. They do not understand the stance the Highland Council has taken regarding its transport contracts.
"Bower is slightly closer to Thurso than it is to Wick and yet parents will have to pay to transport their kids to Thurso but not to Wick.
"The contracts are flawed and what is needed here is a bit of common sense."
He argued that 17 pupils from the Bower area would be affected by the new rules as would a further 23 youngsters in the Wick, Watten, Canisbay and Melvich areas who are outwith the Thurso catchment area.
Under the current system, pupils not entitled to free school transport can get concessionary seats on buses if they are not full but that would not be allowed after the summer.
Mr Coghill claimed the new contracts were drawn up to save money but said that would not happen if the 17 Bower pupils all decided to go to Wick rather than Thurso High. He also wondered if Wick could accommodate the extra pupils and argued that such a move might impact on teaching staff.
Mr Coghill also maintained there was no consultation with parent councils or councillors before the decision was made.
A Highland Council spokesperson yesterday said: "The school transport policy states that free school transport will be provided to all eligible pupils within a school catchment area.
"Bower is within the school catchment area for Wick High School and therefore secondary-age pupils from that area are eligible for free school transport to that school."
She continued: "It is important this policy is adhered to consistently to ensure equity and fairness across the council area. If pupils, as a result of a successful placing-request application, elect to attend a school outwith their existing school catchment area, the school transport policy clearly states that free school transport will not be provided.
"This policy is applied consistently across the Highlands and therefore no exception can be considered for those pupils from Bower who attend Thurso High School.
"Pupils from Bower who elect to attend Thurso High School will require to pay for their school transport from August 2012."