Hindu family fails to get place for child in local school

Dismayed parents of girl (4) ‘so disheartened we even thought about leaving Ireland’

Roopesh Panicker and Naja Natarajan with their daughter Eva Panicker who was unble to attend her local school. Photograph: Aidan Crawley/The Irish Times

Roopesh Panicker and Naja Natarajan with their daughter Eva Panicker who was unble to attend her local school. Photograph: Aidan Crawley/The Irish Times

 

Roopesh Panicker and his wife Najamol Kalangara say they considered leaving Ireland when their daughter Eva (4) could not get a place in a nearby Catholic national school.

Originally from Kerala in India, they are a Hindu family who are naturalised Irish citizens living in south Dublin. Ms Kalangara is a nurse and Mr Panicker works in the hotel industry. They had been living in Kilkenny and later Limerick before moving to Dublin in 2013.

“Eva was in playschool and we thought we had better apply for school in November last year, for September 2015,” says Mr Panicker. “We applied to the nearest school.”

They were unaware of the pressure on school places in parts of Dublin, but when friends mentioned it, they applied to six more.

On November 14th, 2014, they got a letter from the first school saying there was no place for Eva, but she would be put on a waiting list and could also apply for September 2016.

“I called the school. The lady said we were on the wait list. She could not assure us of a place, even in 2016. Then she asked if we were aware of the enrolment policy, that it was a Catholic school.”

The school prioritises applicants in five categories. Catholic children of the parish get first priority, followed by siblings of current pupils, then children of staff, then siblings of pupils in a sister school and finally “non-Catholic children of the parish”. It says:“Length of time on the mailing list does not influence offers of places.” Mr Panicker asked what it meant for a Hindu family. “She said it was school policy.”

The principal wrote to them on November 20th, 2014, saying their application had been late. “We do not operate a policy of exclusion of non-Catholic children . . . For your information, under Irish law, Catholic schools are entitled to prioritise enrolment for Catholic children.”

He approached the next nearest school. Also a Catholic school, it too said there was no space for Eva. “We were so disheartened. We even thought about leaving Ireland,” says Mr Panicker.

Walking distance

Frances Fitzgerald

Both Ministers wrote back, setting out the legal right of schools to set enrolment policies. He says he got a call from the archbishop’s office which “really made me explode”. When Mr Panicker said he had no problem with any religion, he says the caller suggested he have Eva baptised.

A spokeswoman for the diocese said there was no record of such a phone conversation having taken place.

Eva got a place in a school a half-hour drive away. “It is a big Catholic school with lots of spaces,” says Mr Panicker. “But all the children on our road go to the school across the park. She asks, ‘Daddy why do I not go to the same school as my friends’? I don’t want to fill her head about discrimination, so I tell her little lies about how her school is bigger and better. But she will keep asking and I will have to tell her eventually”