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"Not a dumping ground": Pregnant girl turned away from school

The girl was turned away from the Catholic school in Munster on two occasions – once when she was pregnant and again after she had given birth.

UPDATED 5.05pm

THE OMBUDSMAN FOR Children Emily Logan has recommended that a school which refused entry to a pregnant girl apologise for the way she was treated.

The mixed Catholic ethos school in Munster was subject to an investigation by Emily Logan, after the girl and her mother filed a complaint to the ombudsman’s office, reports the Sunday Times.

The girl’s mother said that that her 16-year-old daughter was refused entry to the school based initially on the fact that she was pregnant, and subsequently because she had given birth and was a young single mother.

The girl had attended the school for an interview in 2009 and understood that she had been accepted after she was advised to get a uniform and books. Emily Logan’s report details that the girl’s parents felt the school should be informed of her pregnancy. The school principal then placed a call stating that the girl would not be accepted at the school because she was pregnant. When the teen’s mother wrote to the school the principal responded:

Your letter surprises me. A neighbour called at your request and stated that your daughter was pregnant. I was shocked and told her that I did not take in such girls. She conveyed the message to you.

The girl enrolled in another school and attended there until she went on maternity leave. After the birth of her baby she again attempted to enrol at ‘School A’ and again attended an interview and was advised to purchase the necessary uniform and books. However she said the following day she was contacted, this time by the school manager, and was told “I will not and do not accept single mothers in this school”.

When the office of the ombudsman contacted the school asking for information regarding its enrolment policy, complaints procedure and copies of communication with the family in question it received the following response from the school manager:

Neither am I obliged to have any other frills that you mention. This school is NOT* a haven for young pregnant people or for young mothers who, in particular, have been in two other post primary schools. The school has an uncompromising ethos and will not become a dumping ground for those rejected elsewhere.

Logan’s report notes that the girl had attended two previous schools, but did not settle in them and wished to attend School A because she had friends there and wanted to go to a school outside the city.

The office of the ombudsman also sought a meeting with representatives of the school and received the following communication from the school manager:

Do not try to blame this school for having a moral code. You have no* business coming down here to single us out – we are a Catholic school and shall remain so.

The ombudsman’s report states that the school’s admissions and enrolment policy in relation to this girl is of “serious concern”, and finds that the girl has been discriminated against based on her family status.

The girl and her family were also not advised of any complaints or appeals mechanism and the report indicated further concern at the school’s use of the word “frills’ in relation to a request for information about a complaints process.

Emily Logan has recommended an inspection of the school by the Department of Education. A 2007 Whole School Evaluation by the department noted the absence of clarity on a number of school policies. Concern has also been expressed that there appears to be an absence of a Board of Management at the school, or an advisory group to represent parents and staff.

The girl at the centre of the case said she was very upset by the incident and the she felt:

…put into a low category, that I was not good enough to be in his school. I felt ashamed and embarrassed that someone could make me feel this was for being a single young mother. I wouldn’t wish this feeling on anyone else, I was very emotional and stressed by it. I felt hurt and discriminated against as my child wouldn’t stop me having an education.

The girl’s mother said that the damage to her daughter’s self-esteem had been “immeasurable” and that the actions of the school had negatively impacted on her daughter’s motivation.

The ombudsman’s office has said it  is not satisfied with the final response received from School A and will be “considering the steps available in this regard”.

Read Emily Logan’s report in full>

*all emphasis placed is as per the report

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Emer McLysaght

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