Sunday 15 September 2019

Schools claim all religious events to be scrapped under new ethos

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Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Catholic schools are driving opposition to a proposed switch in patronage by warning parents that events such as Christmas, St Patrick's Day and Shrove Tuesday will no longer be celebrated.

A move to handover one of eight Catholic primary schools in the Portmarnock-Malahide-Kinsealy area of north Dublin has met a hostile reaction in at least two of the schools.

The approach to the eight schools is part of the wider Department of Education initiative to reduce the dominance of the Catholic Church in primary education and provide greater diversity in school choice to reflect societal changes.

Any transfer would be either to the non-denominational Educate Together, the multi- denominational Community National School model or the all-Irish An Foras Pátrúnachta, which allows parents to decide the school ethos.

It is understood that staff in the two schools, Scoil an Duinnínigh and St Marnock's NS, do not favour change and the schools have made their opposition clear in letters to, and at meetings with parents.

Among the claims made by one or both of the schools are that the annual Christmas fair, carol services and nativity plays would no longer be held and St Patrick's Day, St Brigid's Day and Easter, including Shrove Tuesday, would no longer be marked.

Scoil an Duinnínigh, a gaelscoil, also told parents that common Irish-medium greetings that refer to God, such as dia duit, would no longer be allowed. It advised playing, singing or dancing to music with any religious reference, including the St Patrick's Day 'anthem', would not be permitted.

The school said it hoped to make the patronage change in time for September 2019, but the Department of Education told the Irish Independent there was no such requirement.

The letter to parents from St Marnock's NS covers some similar ground and also raised a number of other issues, including teachers' rights and who would control parental fundraising under a new model of patronage.

Both schools also said any change of patronage would have a major effect on management and culture and, in at least one school, parents were told a large number of teachers would consider leaving.

Portmarnock-Malahide-Kinsealy is one of a number of areas where parents of preschool children were surveyed as part of the diversity process. While the results have not been published, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Dublin said there were indications of a movement for change. They said four parishes were asked to consult school staff and parents of existing pupils, and the consultations were being facilitated by diocesan staff.

St Marnock's NS and Scoil an Duinnínigh have hosted meetings attended by parents, principals and chairpersons of boards of management where the process of divestment was explained and discussed.

Meetings have taken place in some of the remaining six schools, while others are planned for this week and next for the remaining six schools.

Parents will be asked to vote on whether or not they want their school to divest and the archdiocese spokesperson said feedback will be given to the Department of Education.

A department spokesperson said the Government has a commitment to reach 400 multi-/non-denominational schools by 2030.

Irish Independent

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