EDUCATE TOGETHER UNITED IN PROTEST
Move to block children from attending school decried as ‘total discrimination’
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.