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Parents dismayed over 'ridiculous decision' to move Drogheda Educate Together school for third time

The school is being moved from east Meath to the grounds of St Oliver’s in Drogheda.

Image: Fergus O'Dowd/Facebook

PARENTS HAVE EXPRESSED their dismay at plans to relocate the Drogheda Educate Together school, which has been described by local TDs as a “ridiculous decision”. 

The school is currently located on Mill Street outside Drogheda in east Meath, but the new plans ratified by the Louth and Meath Education and Training Board (LMETB) will see it moved to the grounds of St Oliver’s Community College in the town. 

The new site will have modular buildings put in place that will “encroach on a significant portion” of the playing pitches and recreational space at St Oliver’s. 

This will be the third move for the Educate Together second-level school in the last number of years.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Labour TD Ged Nash said that there’d been no consultation with parents prior to this decision and that up to now it had operated on the clear understanding that the school would be located in the east Meath area. 

“Parents are furious, outraged,” he said. “It’s not only the decision itself but the manner in which it was made. The site it [currently] occupies is ideal. We were all taken by surprise that the department [of education] imposed this on the community.”

The LMETB said that the proposal to move to St Oliver’s was made by the Department of Education on behalf of Educate Together. 

In a statement, it said that the need to find a suitable alternative site was “urgent”, and that following consultation involving the department and Educate Together, it was requested to make a portion of St Oliver’s available. 

“Following careful consideration to that proposal, and having taken on board the willingness of St Oliver’s Community College to cooperate with the proposal, the Land and Buildings subcommittee agreed to recommend the proposal to the board of LMETB,” it said. 

A statement from the Department of Education said the plan to move the school is to facilitate it “growing to a 1,000-pupil school upon the delivery of its new school building on a permanent site”. 

“This will also address the need for additional post-primary school places in Drogheda for September 2021 and beyond,” the department said. 

“The level of accommodation to be provided will be in excess of 6,200m² and will consist of general classrooms, specialist rooms, special classes, pastoral rooms and other ancillary accommodation.

“The school will remain on the ETB-owned site until its new permanent school building is provided. The existing Drogheda ETSS site is not suitable to accommodate this level of accommodation or growth in pupil numbers.”

The department said finding a suitable permanent site for the school “has proven challenging”. It is undertaking an assessment of two potential sites at the moment. 

Louth Fine Gael TD Fergus O’Dowd told TheJournal.ie that the move came as a “huge disappointment” to parents in the area. 

“This proposal just came out of the blue,” he said. “There was no consultation with parents before this was announced.

By moving to St Oliver’s, it’s putting an extra distance for children to get the school. And they’re also taking over a recreational site. The local community uses those facilities, and they’re being deprived of that now. 

In a letter sent on behalf of parents to Minister for Education Norma Foley, it described how they’d been left reeling by the “incomprehensible” decision.

“The impact and callous disregard for our children has been felt very deeply in our community this week,” they said.

“This move would be the third move in as many years for our 2nd year students and our first year students who have admirably transitioned from primary to secondary schooling during a pandemic.

Our students, who are due to commence in September, are also now full of anxiety at the uncertainty this decision has created, the wellbeing and mental health of our students must be considered at this time.

Parents called on the minister to reverse the decision to move the school, procure a permanent site for the school in the east Meath area, and provide full transparency on how the decision was made. 

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Both Nash and O’Dowd pointed out that the St Oliver’s school already has a large student population and there’ll be several hundred students now joining them with the arrival of the Educate Together. 

Nash said: “The department has serious questions to answer. I don’t believe they did any assessment of alternative sites in the east Meath area, or the suitability to meet the school’s needs on a short, medium or long-term basis. 

We need to consider the impact this will have on existing resources. There’s a massive shortage of football pitches and playing pitches in the Drogheda area. We don’t have the facilities an area the scale of Drogheda should have. 

The Labour TD said he’d yet to hear a “convincing argument” as to why the Educate Together couldn’t stay at its current site. 

This was echoed by O’Dowd who said the department should secure the current site and that the planned move was not a “wise decision”. 

The Fine Gael TD also said that a large sum had already been spent on a project to develop the new headquarters of the LMETB at the St Oliver’s site, and the placing of new modular buildings for students would put that in doubt. 

Nash added: “It’s what parents want [to stay where they are]. It’s what children want. I’ve had so many emails from from children going into it next year to say the impact it has had on him.

“A young person’s life has gotten a lot smaller in the last year with the pandemic. This uncertainty is not welcome. Especially when it’s a decision made in the dark of night with no consultation.”

It’s understood that the matter will be raised in the Dáil this evening. 

In a statement, Educate Together said: “Last Friday, Educate Together was informed of the Department of Education’s proposed interim accommodation solution for Drogheda Educate Together Secondary School for September 2021, which is to build a temporary school on the grounds of St Oliver’s Community College. The Educate Together national office has been engaging with both the Department and the school since then.

“Educate Together will continue to work with all stakeholders to establish a suitable interim accommodation solution for the Drogheda ETSS school community for this September, and to ensure a permanent building is provided for the school as soon as possible.”

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Sean Murray

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