Nine pupils turned away from school due to 'lack of teachers'
NINE children cannot start school this year after being told a week ago that there were no teachers for them.
Two of them -- TJ Dunne (7) and Lucy Ryan (6) -- were sent home for the second year running after being turned away from St Gabriel's national school in Bishopstown, Cork.
Their parents, who were only told last Friday that there would not be any teachers for the nine special needs students, described the handling of the matter as "a total disgrace".
St Gabriel's caters for children with profound to severe learning disabilities, including autism.
The nine youngsters had been promised classroom places in writing by St Gabriel's in July.
The school said it was "shocked" that the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) vetoed two replacement teaching posts just a week ago -- which left them unable to cope with planned student numbers.
"St Gabriel's board sympathises fully with the difficulties parents have been experiencing over the past few days.
"The board are shocked that the NCSE withdrew sanction for two of our teaching posts in the week before school was due to reopen. This put the board in an invidious position," a spokesman said.
St Gabriel's pointed out that its pupils require a high level of supervision -- and, as a compromise, offered the nine children part-time placements, giving them just five days' teaching every fortnight.
The row erupted after St Gabriel's lost two of its 10 teaching staff to retirement and transfers. The school had indicated it would accept the nine new pupils for full-time study on the basis of having 10 teachers and a number of special needs assistants (SNAs).
Parent Sheila Dunne said that her family were "devastated and heartbroken" when they were told the school did not have a full-time place for her autistic son TJ.
"TJ was due to start this morning and we got a phone call last Friday to say he wouldn't be starting. We just don't know where to turn," she added.
Another parent, Ciara Ryan, said the issue smacked of discrimination.
"To get a phone call to say they cannot take my daughter is a downright disgrace and needs to be sorted out," she said.
"She has as much a right to go to school as any other child in this country."
Disability Minister Kathleen Lynch intervened last night and said the situation was "totally unacceptable".
"It is unacceptable that this late in the day you would get notification that there would be no (classroom) place for your child," she said.
But the Department of Education last night insisted that St Gabriel's has enough resources to cope.
"The department and the NCSE consider that the school is sufficiently staffed to meet the full needs of all of its pupils including these nine children," a spokesman said.