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School discriminated against a student because he was Protestant

The Equality Tribunal ordered the Gaelscoil to pay his parents €750.

Image: Holy Communion via Shutterstock

THE EQUALITY TRIBUNAL awarded €750 to  the parents of a young schoolboy who was discriminated against on religious grounds by his primary school.

The Equality Officer in the case also ordered that the Gaelscoil in question to review its policies and procedures to ensure that they are in line with the Equal Status Acts.

The case was taken against the national school in 2011 and was concluded last month.

The complainants contended that their son was discriminated against because he was of the Church of Ireland faith.

The school was set up with an Interdenominational ethos to include by the Roman Catholic and Church of Ireland faiths. The parents were told all faiths were welcome in the school and the RC and COI faiths would be actively taught.

Problems emerged in 2008 when the complainant’s class was preparing for First Communion. The parents asked if their son could sit out of practice but were told by the Principal that if he was in school he had to participate.

According to the case file, the complainant’s parents took no further issue that year as they believed the difficulties would not arise again until 6th year when there would be preparations for Confirmation.

However, by Third Class, it was apparent that all pupils were required and expected to take part in choir practices for both Communion and Confirmation.

The complainant’s parents said they questioned the amount of time spent on Roman Catholic education and were told that if they did not like it, they were perfectly within their rights to remove their child from the school and enrol him in another school.

According to their complaint:

The parents questioned why only RC teaching was covered in religious education and were told by the Principal that as the RC and COI religions are 95 per cent the same that only covering the RC religion would be sufficient for both.

The schoolboy and his parents did not attend a First Communion ceremony on a Saturday in May 2009. The tribunal heard that the following Monday, the Principal visited his classroom, asked anyone who did not attend to stand at the wall, and continued to praise the sitting children, giving them two nights off homework.

The parents said their son was upset by these events and believed he had done something wrong.

In a subsequent meeting, the parents claim that the Principal told them they were part of the “rebel crowd” who broke away from the one true religion.

In its response to the complaint, the school said it rewards students who attend events outside school hours and behave in an “excellent manner”. It noted that pupils had given up their Saturday morning, with many “missing out on swimming lessons, GAA, rugby coaching or just ‘chill out’ time”.

On the day of the hearing last year, however, the Board of Management apologised to the parents in relation to the alleged treatment by the Principal, who is now currently on administrative leave.

Read: the full case file here

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