Parents of students in the Franciscan College, Gormanston, say they are ‘deeply concerned’ about their children sharing a school campus with over 400 Ukrainian refugees.
They say they have absolutely no problem with the neighbouring Gormanston Park campus housing the refugees, however, they say it is inappropriate to have so many people of all ages and genders sharing facilities, and sleeping in the same building, as the pupils attending their school.
"This is such a delicate subject to explain, as we are no way against helping the Ukrainian refugees, however, them staying so close to the students is having a serious effect on their schooling,” says a spokesperson for the parents’ group.
"We have welcomed hundreds in the area; in Stamullen, Gormanston, Julianstown, however, as parents, we don’t feel it is appropriate to have unvetted people in the same building as a working school.”
Gormanston College used to be a boys’ boarding school run by the Franciscan order, however, the grounds have been sold to a private company, which operates the multi-use facility Gormanston Park.
The school is no longer fee-paying, and caters for around 400 boys and girls in a building in the heart of the Gormanston Park campus.
What used to be boarder’s dormitories on the upper levels of the school has now been blocked off to house the refugees fleeing war torn Ukraine. whilst the pupils occupy the bottom two levels.
"There is so much fencing being put up to separate the two areas, it is starting to feel like a prison, which is not good for the mental health of the young people, and really can’t feel very good for the poor refugees either,” said the spokesperson. “There is not supposed to be access between the refugees and the pupils, however, there are crates of dirty laundry being left in corridors, and there is still lift access between the floors where the refugees are sleeping and the pupils.”
There has been a meeting between the school management, Gormanston Park, the parents and representatives of the Dept of Children, where these concerns were expresses.
Franciscan College Gormanston has declined to comment, while Gormanaston Park management had not returned a comment at the time of writing.
The Drogheda Independent has spoken to a large number of parents, who all have similar concerns.
“It is really not a comfortable environment for young people going to school, with all the fencing, security roaming the grounds, and men, women and children of all ages sharing the grounds, and using the same facilities,” said another worried mum. “We were assured there would be no crossover, but it’s nearly impossible for that not to happen, and my child has told me how distracting it is to try and study when you can hear loud music upstairs, and noise from outside, so it really is just a matter of it not being suitable within a school setting.”
Around 30 parents are hoping their concerns will be addressed, however, they are hoping this can be done through amicable dialogue.
"There were recent protests, and we want to say we had nothing to do with those, that is not the way we want to solve this,” said the spokesperson. “I want my child to have an enjoyable school experience, and not to feel anxious or distracted by more refugees living around them, than there are pupils in the school, and after two years of COVID, they deserve better than being worried where they can walk and what they can do in a strange or unsafe atmosphere.”
Last year, a new 1,000 pupil purpose built school to replace the existing Franciscan College in Gormanston was put out to tender, in a greenfield site close to the existing facility.
“More fencing is going up every day and last week, the GAA training had to be moved to a little patch of grass at the front of the school,” said a person with a grandchild in the school. “It is starting to feel like the pupils have no rights in their own school, and feels more like a prison than a school, which might be okay for the older students, but it very intimidating for the first years.”
Another parent says they are just desperate for someone to take their concerns seriously.
"I have emailed the Depts of Education and Children, TUSLA, Meath County Council and no one seems to want to address the issues,” said another parent. “The school is now an island in the middle of the entire park and the Dept of Children says it's not the same building, but it’s like having someone living in your attic and garden and not being expected to be disturbed by them.
"I can’t understand how anyone thinks it’s a suitable setting for a refugee camp of this size.”