PARENTS reacted furiously after a school refused to let children attend classes until book debts were cleared.
Presentation College Carlow, a Catholic voluntary secondary, yesterday confirmed that four students had missed between two and four days of school in the dispute.
It followed a decision by the board of management to try to recoup money owed for school books as well as some transition year fees. Parents were sent letters that read: "Monies due must be paid before your son/daughter may return to school for the next academic year."
The school's action broke Department of Education guidelines, and last night a spokeswoman for Minister Ruairi Quinn said children could not be put at the centre of a debt dispute.
School funding is dependent on conforming to department guidelines, but it is not clear if there will be any repercussions for Presentation College.
School principal Ray Murray said the vast majority of the debt was for books bought from the school's shop.
Mr Murray declined to disclose how much was owed in total, but said the amount was "a couple of thousand".
One parent said the school had been unsympathetic when he approached about clearing a debt.
He said that despite offering to pay a significant amount off the bill each week, he struggled to get the school to make an agreement. His claim was denied by Mr Murray, who described it as "absolute rubbish".
Mr Murray said all of the school's 600 students have now returned, and as long as parents stuck to agreements the matter was settled.
The department said that while free education schools were allocated funding and were not allowed to charge fees, they could charge for books.
But it added: "It is important that schools are sensitive to the financial pressures on parents."