School with no pupils closes doors -- seven weeks into term
FOR the past seven weeks school principal Denis O'Sullivan has turned up in his classroom from Monday to Friday.
The only problem was when he reached the school building and unlocked the doors there were no pupils there to greet him. The bizarre situation had arisen at Scoil Mhuire National School in Clonkeen, Co Kerry, where no pupils had enrolled for the current academic year.
And although the Department of Education and Skills was very much aware of the situation in advance, it didn't close the school and Mr O'Sullivan was not placed, as expected, on a panel of teachers for transfer.
But yesterday, after journalists raised the issue with department officials and the parish priest that runs the school, an immediate plan of action was put into place.
Last night the department confirmed it had received notification from Bishop of Kerry, Bill Murphy, that he has decided to close the school with immediate effect. Dr Murphy, who is patron of Scoil Mhuire, said as a result of demographic changes in the area, demand no longer existed to support the viability of the school.
A department official last night said the principal would now be redeployed to a neighbouring school.
The spokesperson didn't respond when asked why the department had allowed a school with no pupils to remain open for so long or what the future now holds for the school building which was built in the 1970s.
Due to population trends and planning restrictions in the area, pupil numbers at the rural school, 19kms from Killarney town, had been dwindling sharply in recent years.
Just 12 were on the roll book in 2009, dropping to three last year, and when the last pupils moved on to secondary school in September, the classrooms at Scoil Mhuire fell silent.
The chairman of the school's board of management, Fr Bill Radley, said earlier yesterday the department was notified well in advance of the required deadline and the matter was again flagged in follow-up telephone calls and in a letter to civil servants.
He said he had been assured there was "movement afoot" at departmental level to resolve the matter but while he refused to speculate on the reasons for the delay, he confirmed last night the closure decision follows publicity that the school opened despite having no pupils.
Fr Radley said pupil numbers had dropped off in recent years, mainly because no new houses had been built in the locality.
"The area around Clonkeen National School is designated an area of natural beauty so virtually no planning permission was being granted for any new developments.
"It is very difficult to receive planning for anything and we're paying the price for that now," he said.