Move to block chil­dren from at­tend­ing school de­cried as ‘to­tal dis­crim­i­na­tion’

New Ross Standard - - FRONT PAGE - By DAVID LOOBY

PAR­ENTS who want their chil­dren to at­tend Ed­u­cate To­gether NS have vowed to fight tooth and nail – in­clud­ing in front of the Dáil – to get the Govern­ment to re­verse its de­ci­sion to limit en­rol­ment num­bers.

More than 100 peo­ple at­tended a meet­ing at the school on Thurs­day night, pic­tured right, ex­press­ing their out­rage and deep con­cern fol­low­ing no­ti­fi­ca­tion that only 13 pupils can en­rol in Junior In­fants class this au­tumn.

One par­ent said there is ‘to­tal dis­crim­i­na­tion’ against the pupils.

MORE than 100 peo­ple packed into New Ross Ed­u­cate NS on Thurs­day night for a meet­ing about the De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion’s de­ci­sion to limit the num­ber of pupils who can at­tend the school’s Junior In­fants class.

The mes­sage was sent out that par­ents of prospec­tive pupils at the school will not tol­er­ate be­ing dis­crim­i­nated against by be­ing de­prived an ed­u­ca­tion in a non Catholic school, with one par­ent sug­gest­ing they should protest at the Dáil gates.

The school was one of five des­ig­nated by the De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion to be ‘ half stream’, mean­ing it is be­ing de­prived fund­ing to teach a full Junior In­fants class of 26, de­spite the fact that there are that num­ber of pupils en­rolled.

Presently en­rol­ments are lim­ited 13 pupils per year. Act­ing prin­ci­pal Aoife Ma­hon said: ‘I know this is a very wor­ry­ing de­vel­op­ment and we are very upset about it. It came out of the blue and there was never any in­di­ca­tion that this would hap­pen. We thought if we were suc­cess­ful we would grow and all that changed in the re­cent past when we re­ceived a let­ter from the for­ward plan­ning sec­tion de­part­ment that we were opened as a half stream school which was never put to us.’

The grounds upon which the school was de­nied full stream sta­tus was that it is ad­versely af­fect­ing ex­ist­ing pri­mary schools in the area, in terms of en­rol­ment. Ms Ma­hon said the lat­est en­rol­ment fig­ures for Shan­bogh NS, St Can­ice’s NS and Cather­ine Mc­Cauley NS show the fig­ures are up. ‘All the other schools seem to be grow­ing be­side ours.’

Four other Ed­u­cate To­gether schools in Tramore, Tuam, Castler­bar and Trim are af­fected. ‘Over 90 per cent of schools are re­li­gious run. We opened un­der the im­pres­sion we were full stream school and in­stead we are fac­ing a half stream cap.’

Chair­per­son Ni­amh FitzGib-

bon said given the fact the school was es­tab­lished un­der the di­vest­ment process fol­low­ing a survey un­der­taken in New Ross in which par­ents ex­pressed a de­sire for a sec­u­lar school, she said it is a to­tal ‘U-turn’ by the de­part­ment, adding that the Ir­ish ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem is sup­posed to support choice for pupils.

Niall Wall, Re­gional De­vel­op­ment Of­fi­cer with Ed­u­cate To­gether, said the body was aware of plans to cap pupil en­rol­ment at half stream only re­cently. ‘We don’t ac­cept this and we are fully be­hind the five schools. This school opened with 15 pupils and we got two teachers. There is some­thing go­ing on here that doesn’t add up or make sense. We have to keep fight­ing it and get­ting as much support as we can. We are not go­ing to give up on this.’

Mr Wall said there are three empty school premises in the town. ‘ This school should be al­lowed to grow. The proof is that there is enough de­mand for 26 pupils. You can spec­u­late as to the rea­sons but we need to de­clare that this is not on and this can­not hap­pen as it’s not what we were promised.’

Ms Ma­hon said the first 13 chil­dren on the en­rol­ment list will be of­fered places next week. ‘If they choose not to ac­cept, peo­ple’s places will be of­fered on a first come, first served ba­sis.’

Any­one whose child is not of­fered a place was urged to write to the board of man­age­ment stat­ing that it was be­cause of the cap put in place. Af­ter­wards the de­part­ment is no­ti­fied and an of­fi­cial vis­its the school for a meet­ing in an ap­peals process.

‘Pester pub­lic rep­re­sen­ta­tives. You are en­ti­tled to this. It’s your choice of ed­u­ca­tion and we want to give it to you. It’s up­set­ting that some­one thinks it’s not OK for you to have that choice so you need to get be­hind this.’

Par­ents were en­cour­aged to sign an on­line pe­ti­tion to the de­part­ment urg­ing them to re­vert back to its orig­i­nal de­ci­sion to al­low the school to be­come a full stream school. By Thus­r­day there were over 900 sig­na­to­ries to it, five days af­ter it was started. Prin­ci­pal Elaine French said man­age­ment were never told at the out­set that Ed­u­cate To­gether NS was a half stream school and there is noth­ing in writ­ing to this ef­fect.

The cost of ac­com­mo­dat­ing ad­di­tional pupils in a full stream school was given by one au­di­ence mem­ber as a rea­son why the school was be­ing pre­vented from grow­ing. Pupil teacher ra­tio will also be ad­versely af­fected if the school is not granted full stream sta­tus.

One par­ent asked if any Catholic school has en­coun­tered this prob­lem. ‘Surely this is to­tal dis­crim­i­na­tion,’ the par­ent said. Mr Caulfield sug­gested that par­ents and prospec­tive pupils should protest to­gether at the Dáil ‘to show the Govern­ment we mean busi­ness’.

‘The ethos of the school is sup­posed to be that kids come first and are part of the run­ning of the school,’ one per­son com­mented, while an­other stressed the need for a so­lic­i­tor.

Cllr Michael Whe­lan said the cap is based on Ed­u­cate To­gether af­fect­ing en­rol­ment in other schools within a 15km ra­dius, when re­al­is­ti­cally it is the only sec­u­lar school choice in the en­tire dis­trict.

Cllr Michael Shee­han said he will be bring­ing a mo­tion of support to this Wed­nes­day’s mu­nic­i­pal coun­cil meet­ing back­ing the school and its par­ents.

Ms Ma­hon said around 21 of the 26 stu­dents en­rolled would be likely to take up the of­fer of a place if the de­part­ment sanc­tioned the fund­ing for a full stream class.

One par­ent said: ‘This is dis­crim­i­na­tion. It’s ei­ther Catholic or noth­ing!’ Ms FitzGib­bon said: ‘We will con­tinue to fight with ev­ery­thing we’ve got as we have to re­verse this.’ A pub­lic meet­ing is planned on the mat­ter. You can sign the pe­ti­tion urg­ing the De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion at https://my.up­lift.ie/pe­ti­tions/ se­cure-the-fu­ture-of-new-rosse­d­u­cate

The crowd at the in­for­ma­tion meet­ing at New Ross Ed­u­cate To­gether.

Aoife Ma­hon, Ni­amh FitzGib­bon, Niall Wall and Elaine French.

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