Thursday, February 13, 2014

North Mon parents vow to chain themselves to school gates

  Pupils Kyle Woods, Conor Higgins and Samuel Barrett; above, right, Ann Marie Sheehan, and, right, Gareth Maguire speaking at a parent-teacher meeting in the North Monastery Primary School. Pictures: Darragh KaneParents of pupils at Cork’s North Monastery primary school have vowed to chain themselves to the gates as they insist plans to move the boys into a merger with a nearby convent school will not go ahead.

While a large poster on the main railings says applications are being taken for next September, a planned move by the trustees would see it closed down and amalgamated across the road with the St Vincent’s Convent primary.

The principal of Scoil Mhuire Fatima, one of three schools at the 203-year-old North Mon education campus on the city’s northside, told an impromptu meeting the move would happen “over my dead body”, as parents were urged to fight the proposal by the Edmund Rice Schools Trust (ERST).

The 100 parents gathered in the school hall at lunch- time heard from headmaster Carl Ó Briain the first anyone knew was when he and other local principals were called to a meeting on Monday to hear the plans of the trustees of the four schools for a major restructuring of primary education in the area.

“When I came here in March 2012, we asked the ERST to ask the bishop to allow junior infant boys into the Mon, because that’s what people want. We started asking for junior infants and end up being told we’re being evicted,” he said.

Although numbers have dropped by around 80 to 170 at the school since 2007, the idea was that having infant boys — who traditionally attend junior classes first in St Vincent’s or North Presentation Primary school — would boost the school’s future. Instead, the plan put forward by the trustees of those three schools is that a newly named school on the St Vincent’s site would accommodate existing pupils and those from North Mon, with the Sisters of Charity as trustees.

It is proposed that this would allow Gaelscoil Pheig Sayers, whose numbers are growing rapidly, to move into the vacated North Mon site and from diocesan trusteeship under the ERST. At the same time, North Pres would, on a phased basis, become a mixed-gender school through to sixth class.

The plan drew passion and anger from parents, including many with girls in St Vincent’s who support the case to keep the North Mon school open. Josephine Cullinane has a boy in fourth class at Scoil Mhuire Fatima and a daughter in fifth at St Vincent’s, but said she is devastated at the way they are being treated in the plan.

“They’re going to throw my son out of his school and dump him in on top of my daughter’s school in St Vincent’s, where they have no room. I don’t know who the trustees are but I’m a mother and I will fight tooth and nail for my children,” she said.

Others said there would not be enough toilets for boys, not enough yard space, and none of the sports facilities pupils enjoy in the North Mon.

Joseph Saleh, who has a son in the school, another he hopes to enrol and another who is a past pupil, said he would take the same measures as one parent vowed.

“I also will chain myself to the gates if that is necessary to stop this,” he said.

Local councillors and election candidates offered their support, including Lord Mayor Catherine Clancy and many past pupils.

Cllr Thomas Gould said he is a North Mon primary past pupil and a board member at Gaelscoil Pheig Sayers, which was refused when it asked to co-locate in part of the unused North Mon primary school site four years ago. But having moved to the old St Finbarr’s College, Farranferris, nearby over a year ago, he said parents and pupils are happy there and do not want the proposed move.

“I don’t believe this can be forced through if parents and teachers stand together and say no,” he said.

The Irish Examiner put a series of questions to the ERST yesterday about the proposals, including why school boards were excluded from discussions, and what plans are in place to accommodate increased enrolment at St Vincent’s next September. The trust’s chief executive, Gerry Bennett, said a proposal has been submitted to the boards of management, parents and staff for them to engage in a consultative process.

“The result of these consultations will be sent by the board of management to the trustees by March 7, 2014,” he replied.

A public meeting will be held by the Scoil Mhuire Fatima parents’ association in the school hall at 7pm next Monday.