Department inquiry into exclusion of pregnant girl

Tue, May 1, 2012, 01:00

A SECONDARY school that refused admission to a pregnant teenager is being investigated by the Department of Education following a complaint by Children’s Ombudsman Emily Logan.

The private school in the midwest was subject to an unannounced inspection in February and a second inspection will take place next month, the Department of Education has said.

Ms Logan has requested that the school apologise for excluding the 16-year-old girl. She found the school appeared to have no board of management, no admissions policy or complaints procedure.

Ms Logan said she had been lobbying for years for a clear admissions policy to be available to parents and children.

“The best way that I think I could handle this is to make it known to the members of the Oireachtas and to the Minister who has responsibility for legislating in this area,” she said yesterday.

“It is important that the public is aware that there are still children who are being mistreated and this is not acceptable.”

Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn said he would be bringing forward “firm and clear guidelines” in relation to admissions policies that would have the “force of law”. He added it would be “premature” to comment on the school in question until the outcome of the inspections, which he hoped to have before the summer.

Mr Quinn said the existing grievance procedures were “cumbersome and legalistic”, and there needed to be a better system of appeal and mediation than the one that existed at present.

There also needed to be an improvement in relationships between the department and individual schools, he told RTÉ’s Drivetime radio programme.

Ms Logan said she never experienced such “hostility” as when she investigated the decision by the school to exclude the teenager.

“It is very, very unusual. Generally people are respectful of the level of independence of my office,” she told The Irish Times.

“By and large, people co-operate in relation to the fact that we have a role to do. The way in which this person communicated with this office is unusual.”

In a report published on the Children’s Ombudsman website, Ms Logan said the girl in question tried unsuccessfully twice to enrol in the school, once when she was pregnant in 2009 and secondly after she had the baby in 2010.

When her mother wrote to the school principal, he replied: “Your letter surprises me. A neighbour called at your request and stated that your daughter was pregnant. I was shocked and I told her that I did not take in such girls.”

Ms Logan wrote to the school in July last year following a complaint from the girl’s mother.

She requested that the school furnish a copy of its admissions policies and complaints procedures, along with outlining its board of management structure.

In response, the school manager wrote to her: “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. The school has an uncompromising ethos and will not become a dumping ground for those rejected elsewhere.”

The girl had attended two previous secondary schools, first changing schools in October 2008 “as she was unhappy in that school”, and “she did not settle” in the second school. She then worked for a short period.

In 2009 she discovered she was pregnant and “made a decision that she wanted to return to school” and wanted to go to the school at the centre of Ms Logan’s investigation as she had friends there.

Ms Logan said she could not see any evidence of an admissions policy and the school did not appear to have a complaints mechanism.

Attempts to contact the school yesterday were unsuccessful.