It is with deep regret that Educate Together announces that Castlebar Educate Together National School will not open this September.
This is a severe blow to the divestment process. Until today Educate Together was prepared to proceed to open Castlebar ETNS on 1st September 2015 in temporary accommodation. However, Educate Together was issued with an ultimatum by the Department of Education and Skills: either it must accept as permanent accommodation a building that is inaccessible, not viable in the long term, and does not serve the needs of the communities it is meant to serve; or it must postpone the opening of the school. The overwhelming majority of parents have told us that they will not send their children to Castlebar ETNS if it means accepting that the Burren is their ultimate intended school premises. Therefore, given the limited options available to us, we have decided under duress to defer the opening of Castlebar ETNS until 2016 pending a full review of the accommodation options and possibilities for the school in a more central location in the Castlebar area for 2016.
The State’s commitment to address the serious violation of rights of children and parents is now called into question. An Educate Together National School in Castlebar would provide choice in an area in which there is no alternative school choice but 16 Catholic primary schools. The postponement of the school has resulted in serious legal ramifications in relation to commitments made to the Principal appointed and families of children enrolled.
Educate Together calls on the Department to demonstrate its commitment to provide real and viable choice in divestment areas. Proposals for divestment accommodation should not be restricted to obsolete, abandoned or derelict buildings but should be required to be situated in adequate and easily-accessible buildings such as that made available for Tuam ETNS (opening in 2015) that are fit-for-purpose and appropriate for young children beginning their school lives.
It is unconscionable to demand that anxious parents of vulnerable four- and five-year-olds travel over 45 minutes to their first school, a school that is neither warm nor welcoming and with inadequate facilities for learning, play and recreation. It is outrageous to expect these children to learn and create positive memories of their first years at school in such conditions. Educate Together refuses to be party to such demands and expectations.
Paul Rowe CEO of Educate Together: ‘I would like to express Educate Together's disappointment that the Department of Education and Skills could not better approach the constitutional and human rights of the children and parents involved.’
Jarlath Munnelly of Educate Together: ‘This is an extremely unfortunate and avoidable situation. Educate Together is committed that an equality-based national school will be available to the children of Castlebar in 2016 and I intend to work intensively with the DES and the parents of Castlebar to ensure that this happens.’
Tony Geraghty, parent: ‘I and the other parents are extremely disappointed at this turn of events. The children of Castlebar have a right to an equality-based education and the Department of Education has previously demonstrated a demand for such a school in Castlebar. It is infuriating and frustrating that bureaucracy and lack of imagination has meant that children will be denied such an education for at least another year.’
In November 2014 an offer was made to Educate Together to open schools in four areas under the divestment process. The proposed school in Castlebar was to be located in the former Burren National School building, 8 km outside the town. This building was abandoned, remote and neglected with inadequate sanitary arrangements, heating and space. Cognisant of the pressing need of diversity in Co. Mayo, Educate Together informed the DES that it would agree to open a school in Castlebar ‘with reservations’ and that it would endeavour to find more suitable temporary accommodation in the town. Educate Together did not at any time formally accept the proposed premises at the Burren site as the permanent location for Castlebar ETNS.
Subsequently the DES assigned a roll number to Castlebar ETNS and a Principal was recruited. Educate Together consistently raised concerns with the location of the Burren building and proactively contacted the Forward Planning Section of the DES with alternative suggestions and options.
On Monday 24 August Educate Together was informed that the DES required Educate Together to either open the school in the Burren NS building or to postpone the opening until next year with further opportunities to source a suitable building, with the caveat that the Burren NS building must still be under consideration. Educate Together is seeking meaningful and early engagement with the Forward Planning section on the accommodation options for 2016.