Schools should not be 'setting a bad example' in ethos row, says minister
Education Minister Joe McHugh warned schools not to be "setting a bad example" with groundless claims such as Christmas being 'cancelled', if they switch ethos.
The minister has stepped into the row raging in North County Dublin over the possible divestment of one of eight Catholic schools.
It is taking place in the Malahide-Portmarnock-Kinsealy area in the interests of providing greater choice for parents.
His intervention came after some schools issued letters to parents warning that change would spell an end to their celebration of a range of festivals and traditions that have their roots in religion, including St Patrick's Day and Shrove Tuesday, as well as Christmas.
In one school, parents raised a concern that grandparent assemblies would no longer be a feature of school life.
Amid rising confusion, Mr McHugh tweeted a message directed at parents, grandparents and school communities and said he was "appealing directly to schools, management bodies and boards of management not to issue claims that have no basis in fact.
"It is a bad example to be setting, particularly from those of us who are working to educate our young people."
He said a considerable amount of inaccurate information was being shared about what would happen if a school changed patron.
"These assertions have not been helpful. They are also creating fear and uncertainty. School authorities have a duty to share accurate and appropriate information."
"Just to be clear - Christmas will not be cancelled. Neither will any other typical school holiday like Easter or St Patrick's Day. Pancake Tuesday won't be banned. Nor will holidays or celebrations associated with the ancient Celtic/pagan festival of Halloween," the minister added.
He said assessing areas for potential new patrons was not about forcing change, and also confirmed that no decision on divestment would be required by September.
The flood of claims has also triggered strong reaction from patron bodies that are in the mix to take over schools that may divest from a Catholic ethos.
Nessa White, general secretary of Education and Training Boards Ireland (ETBI), the umbrella body for community national schools, said many of the claims being made about multi-denominational education "are simply inaccurate".
She also took issue with suggestions that a change in patronage could have negative consequences on the terms and conditions of teachers' employment.
"To be clear, if the school was to change to a community national school, the teachers' and SNAs' terms and conditions remain the same as before. The employer would change from the current Board of Management to the ETB," she said.
The non-denominational patron body, Educate Together, said it was disappointed at the "grossly misleading and categorically untrue" claims that were being made.
Parents in at least one school have started sending letters to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and other public representatives.