School appeals entry bias against Traveller


JUDGMENT HAS been reserved in the case of a Tipperary secondary school which is appealing a ruling by the Equality Tribunal that it indirectly discriminated against Travellers when it refused a Traveller child admission.

CBS High School in Clonmel was appealing a decision by the Equality Tribunal that it should offer John Stokes a place and review its admissions policy to ensure that it did not indirectly discriminate against any pupil.

John (13), through his mother Mary and instructed by the Irish Traveller Movement Independent Law Centre, lodged the complaint against the school on the grounds that it had breached the Equal Status Act.

The Equality Tribunal ruled in favour of Ms Stokes last year but the High School appealed the ruling to Clonmel Circuit Court. Yesterday Judge Tom Teehan reserved judgment until July 25th after hearing submissions.

The court had earlier heard that John had applied in November 2009 to attend CBS High School, having attended a local primary school in Clonmel, but there was oversubscription with 174 applications for 140 available places.

The school selected students on the basis of its admission policy based on three criteria – that the child’s father or an older sibling had attended the school, that he was Catholic and that he had attended a local primary school.

John met the last two criteria but, as he was the oldest in his family and his father had not attended the school, he was not admitted and instead had to go to school in Fethard.

Ms Stokes unsuccessfully appealed the school’s refusal to the Department of Education before appealing to the Equality Tribunal that requiring a parent to have previously attended the school disproportionately affected Travellers.

Cormac Ó Dulacháin SC, for John and the law centre, disputed the merits of an argument made by the school that it had admitted three Traveller children in 2008- 2009 and others in the 1980s.

In 2008-2009, there was no oversubscription so places were not being awarded preferentially, while back in the 1980s the requirement that a pupil had to have a parent who previously attended the school had not yet been introduced, he said.

Mr Ó Dulacháin further argued that the longer the school had the parent requirement rule, the more it compounded and reinforced that disadvantage by making it just as difficult for the next generation of Traveller children to be admitted to the school.

Marguerite Bolster SC, for High School, argued that the court must be satisfied that John had suffered a particular disadvantage by the school’s policy and that this was not the case. He was one of 37 children whose parents had not attended the High School with the result that his name had gone into a lottery with the other 36 children who failed to meet the parent requirement rule and he lost out.

His chances of obtaining a place without the parent requirement would have been 70 per cent as opposed to 55 per cent with the parent requirement in place, Ms Bolster added, but this was not a case of discrimination against him on the basis of his Traveller background.