Parent leaves board over school policy

 

One of two parents on the board of management of a Dublin primary school has resigned because he "cannot in conscience support the introduction of religious discrimination" into enrolment policies there.

Mr John Suttle claimed that the board at Belgrove junior boys school, Clontarf had "decided to give preference to the patron's [Cardinal Desmond Connell] wishes over those of the parents of the children of our school".

In his letter of resignation, dated December 17th, to the board's chairman, the local parish priest Monsignor Patrick Devine, Mr Suttle said "the religious discriminatory policy introduced reflects the system of 40 years ago when the Archbishop [Dr McQuaid] dictated all, through the local parish priest manager.

"It is almost exactly 40 years ago that my teacher of two years in Belgrove, the writer John MacGahern, was removed by the parish priest on instruction of the Archbishop of Dublin."

Mr Suttle's resignation follows a decision by the board of management on December 12th last to reject an admissions policy for the school proposed by its parents' representatives and to adopt one "consistent with that laid down by the patron".

The parents' representatives had proposed that traditional admission priorities at the school be maintained, with children from the catchment area of Clontarf parish being most favoured. Next would be siblings of pupils already enrolled at the school, followed by children from outside the catchment area.

Cardinal Connell, in line with the 1998 Education Act, had instructed that all Catholic schools in the archdiocese adopt priorities which would favour "Catholic children of the parish. Next would be siblings of children in the school, followed by Catholic children who live outside the parish and do not have a Catholic school in their parish. Next to them would be all children who live within the parish boundaries but were not Catholic, followed by children who are not Catholics and are not residents within the parish boundaries."

The parents' representatives argued that "the core issue is the admission of non-Catholics who live in Clontarf". Under the traditional policy, a non-Catholic living in Clontarf would be priority number one, whereas under the Cardinal/patron's policy a non-Catholic living in Clontarf would be priority number four. The parents' policy had been supported unanimously at two annual general meetings in the past two years, he said. The board was "subjugating the well-being of the children to the bigotry of vested interests", he said.

Monsignor Devine said it was "very unfortunate there should be a dispute over something theoretical". In practice, he did not believe things would change at Belgrove. He didn't agree that something had been introduced that was not there before, and could not foresee a situation where baptismal certificates would be required on enrolment. There was nothing in diocesan policies which said they should be looked for, he said. He also said that local Church of Ireland and Presbyterian schools had similar enrolment priorities to Belgrove.