Educate Together announced on Wednesday evening that its planned new national school for Castlebar would now not be opening, just days before it was due to open for the first time. The educational organisation said up until Wednesday, it was ready to go ahead and open the school in temporary accommodation, but was given an ultimatum by the Department of Education and Skills that it must accept the accommodation in the old national school in the Burren, outside Castlebar, or postpone the opening of the school.
A statement issued by Educate Together said: "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 statement continued: "It is unconscionable to demand that anxious parents of vulnerable four and five-year-olds travel over 45 minutes to their first school that is neither warm nor welcoming 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."
The regional organiser of Educate Together, Jarlath Munnelly, said: "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."
Meanwhile Paul Rowe, CEO of Educate Together, said: "‘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."
One of the parents of children enrolled in the school, Tony Geraghty, added: "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."
Outlining the background of the situation in its statement, Educate Together said: "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, 8km 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 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 August 24 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."