A school manager who refused to enrol a pregnant teenager said his school was not a haven for young pregnant people or young mothers.
The school is not named in Children’s Ombudsman Emily Logan’s report but it has been identified by the Irish Examiner as St Joseph’s College, a privately owned Catholic school with almost 300 male and female students, in Borrisoleigh, Co Tipperary.
Pádraig O’Shea, who founded the school in 1978, is its owner, manager, and patron. He was principal when the girl first applied to enrol in 2009 but the school now has a different principal. The school could not be contacted yesterday.
The girl had left another school to work after her Junior Certificate but decided to return to school after finding out she was pregnant. She said it was initially indicated to her that she had been accepted by St Joseph’s, but the then principal phoned and said they would not accept her because she was pregnant.
In response to a letter from the girl’s mother, he wrote: “A neighbour called at your request and stated that your daughter was pregnant. I was shocked and told her that I did not take in such girls.”
She applied again in 2010, after the birth of her child, and understood from a meeting that she had been accepted. But she said somebody who introduced himself as the school manager phoned the next day and said: “I will not and do not accept single mothers in this school.”
In Nov 2010, the school wrote to the girl’s mother: “We do not take single young girls who are mothers. This is not a suitable school for such.”
She complained to the ombudsman’s office, which wrote to the school last July asking for copies of its enrolment policies, complaints procedures, and other details.
However, the school manager wrote back: “Neither am I obliged to have any other frills that you mention. This school is NOT a haven for young pregnant people or for young mothers who, in particular, have been in two other post-primary schools.”
In September, he wrote to Ms Logan’s office: “Do not try to blame this school for having a moral code. You have no business coming down here to single us out — we are a Catholic school and shall remain so.”
Ms Logan’s investigation concluded the school’s action adversely affected the girl, was improperly discriminatory, based on an undesirable administrative practice, and contrary to fair and sound administration.
The girl told Ms Logan’s office she felt hurt and discriminated against by the school’s decision.
“I felt ashamed and embarrassed that someone could make me feel this was for being a single young mother,” she said.
Her mother said the school’s actions caused immeasurable damage to the girl’s self-esteem, and that they felt stigmatised and slighted as a family.
The report says it is of serious concern that it appears to be a general policy of the school not to admit the girl because she was pregnant and, on the second occasion, a single mother. She said this may result in other young people being refused enrolment for the same reasons.
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