An organisation representing Catholic secondary schools said pregnancy should never be a factor when considering whether to enrol a student.
It emerged this week that the school had turned down a 16-year-old girl who applied to enrol there in 2009 because she was pregnant, and again a year later because she was a single mother.
Children’s Ombudsman Emily Logan said in a report published in recent days that St Joseph’s College, in Borrisoleigh, Co Tipperary, discriminated against the teenager and recommended the school give her a written apology. No apology had issued up to last week.
The school is owned and managed by Pádraig O’Shea, who was its principal at the time, and is also the school patron.
St Joseph’s College has not commented so far and reporters were told yesterday that no comment would be made.
The Joint Managerial Body, an umbrella organisation for almost 400 secondary schools, said it did not know the full story.
General secretary Ferdia Kelly said it expects every school to have an admissions policy which should comply with current legislation.
“We expect that a decision to enrol a pupil or not would be based on capacity of school to meet the educational needs of a child. The issue of pregnancy should never be an issue in making the decision,” Mr Kelly said.
“We would expect Catholic schools to provide for pastoral care and support of a girl in those circumstances, rather than use it as a reason to not enrol.”
Alan Kelly, a Labour junior minister and Tipperary North TD, made an unequivocal call for the school to apologise to the young woman.
“I thought Ireland had moved along past all of this. The school in question has a fine record in other areas but I believe that she should get an apology. I think it’s absolutely necessary because this behaviour was totally unacceptable,” he said.
Mr Kelly told RTÉ radio that Ruairi Quinn, the education minister, is looking at the whole area of enrolment policies of schools and looking at legislation to ensure that something like this can’t happen again.
“Every child and every teenager is entitled to an education and the spirit of the Education Act certainly wasn’t adhered to here. This should never happen in modern Ireland; everybody is entitled to be treated fairly and in an equal way and the school should apologise,” Mr Kelly said.
The Teen Parents Support Programme welcomed Mr Quinn’s plans but said it is horrified at the school’s attitude to the young mother and its treatment of her.
“While most schools are very supportive of pregnant and parenting students, in the experience of the TPSP, discrimination of this kind — albeit less overt — is not uncommon,” the group said.
“Parenthood often motivates young mothers to remain in or return to school, as was the case with this young woman. This takes courage and determination and they deserve to be supported in whatever way they need,” said the HSE-funded group, which provides early interventions for teen parents and their children.
O’Shea: Founder, manager, owner, and patron
Pádraig O’Shea: Founder of St Joseph’s in 1978, he is also manager, owner, and patron. A former pupil of his at a previous school remembers he was a ‘tough disciplinarian’.
St Joseph’s College, where a girl was refused enrolment because she was pregnant.
Pádraig O’Shea founded St Joseph’s College in 1978 after the village’s Convent of Mercy secondary school closed.
He is manager, owner, and patron of the school, which was an all-girls institution until boys were first admitted in 1981, and was principal until around two years ago.
The Irish language enthusiast previously taught the subject at Glasheen secondary school, a private secondary school in the southside suburb of Cork before the arrival of private secondary education.
A former pupil remembers him as a “tough disciplinarian” while he was a student in Mr O’Shea’s Irish class there in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Department of Education inspectors will visit the school again this month following an unannounced inspection in February on foot of Children’s Ombudsman Emily Logan’s report into the investigation of the refusal to enrol the young woman when she was pregnant and after becoming a mother.
The last-published Department of Education inspection report of the school revealed in 2008 that it still did not have a board of management, which a patron is required “where practicable” to appoint under the 1998 Education Act.
Mr O’Shea had given a comprehensive answer to the department when the act came into effect as to why he had not set up a board for the school. However, inspectors suggested on foot of their 2007 evaluation that he consider forming an advisory group representing parents, staff, and other interest groups to help with the running of the school.
While the vast majority of second-level schools have a board in place, the Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland said in response to Ms Logan’s report this week it is essential that all schools should have a proper-functioning board which is accountable and represents parents, teachers, and the wider community.
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