Friday 18 October 2019

Patrician pupils plea to Minister over 'harsh' conditions at school

Letter says 'as a student body we feel the Government has neglected our school'

Bill Browne

"For too long Patrician Academy students have had to put up with being ignored by this government." 

That was the simple but heartfelt message from the Academy's Student Council, which has written to Education Minister Joe McHugh expressing their frustration with the "harsh" conditions at their Mallow campus. 

The letter, signed on behalf of the Student Council by its chair, 19-year-old leaving certificate student Eoghan Kenny, outlined how a large section of the school was severely damaged by fire in July 2016.

 Following the blaze the school was left with no option but locate students away from the campus, holding lessons in the dressing rooms of the local GAA Complex, in a nearby national school and at the Gilbert Centre. 

"In spite of our teachers best efforts, this situation was far from ideal and thankfully, this year, we have returned to the school campus," wrote Eoghan. 

However, he pointed out that the prefabricated rooms some students are now working out of are too cold in the winter and, with weather starting to turn, are becoming too hot to work in as summer approaches. 

"The prefabricated toilet facilities are rotting away, constantly flooding and are, quite frankly a health hazard and not fit for purpose," read the letter, which also pointed out that during a recent Whole School Evaluation inspectors from the department noted the lack of on-campus facilities. 

It went on to point out that the school has had to fund its own gym and astro-turf pitch and cap the number of pupils entering the school due to space restrictions. 

Directly addressing Minister McHugh, Eoghan wrote that the for almost three years "not one single block has been laid on the school site, illustrating the lack -lustre response from your Department."

"Do you really think that is good enough? If your son was a student in our school, would you think these sub-standard conditions were an acceptable environment to learn in? As a student body we feel the Government, and your department in particular has neglected our school," wrote student Eoghan.

"As an avid follower of politics, I regularly see you opening school buildings across country and as students we ask ourselves are we not equal to those students? And, if we are equal, why are we being subjected to such harsh conditions?"

The Corkman contacted the Department of Education and Skills in relation to the letter and in reply a spokesperson said the project for Patrician Academy was currently at architectural planning stage and that it was intended a planning application would be lodged with Cork County Council “in the coming weeks.”

"The school will be delivered under the Department's Design and Build programme and when complete, this project will provide a 500-pupil post primary school, incorporating two classes for children with special educational needs," it read. 

However, Eoghan had pre-empted such a reply, writing that "through an email you may try to convince us that you haven't forgotten our school of that planning is underway".

"Until we see actual building progress being made, we cannot and will not, take your word for it," he wrote. 

Speaking to The Corkman Eoghan questioned why it had taken so long to set the process of rebuilding the school in train.

"As I said in the letter, for far too long Academy pupils have had to put up with being ignored by this Government and while I myself will never avail of a new building I felt it was important that this situation needed to be highlighted for the sake of the pupils coming up behind my year," said Eoghan. 

"As an entire student body, we are genuinely dismayed by the lack of activity, which is why we are pleading that something be done immediately to address the conditions here," he said. 

Eoghan said that while it has been suggested in some quarters that students take their issue directly to the capital and march outside the Dáil, he felt the correct approach would be to initially write to Minister McHugh suggesting that a department official come and view the conditions first hand. 

"While there is now a commitment of sorts from the Department the timetable is at best vague and perhaps if the saw the conditions for themselves it may help speed the process up," said Eoghan. 

"While morale is high in the school at the moment, this remains a considerable thorn in our side and can not be allowed to continue into another school year without some tangible movement on it," he added. 

School principal Elaine O'Regan said she too had received an email from the Department to the effect that planning permission would be lodged by the end of this month, with a view to going to construction by quarter four of next year.

"There is now at least some progress on the dinner plate," she said.  Ms O'Regan said she was not adverse to students making their own case to the Minister.

"We would always encourage all students with good intentions to be vocal," she said.