EDUCATION Minister Joe McHugh has announced new assistance for Leaving Certificate students who suffer bereavement during exams.
The pilot scheme has been implemented after a public outcry following the case of Rhona Butler.
Ms Butler, a student from Carrick-on-Suir in Co Tipperary, sat one of her exams the morning after her mother Margaret died of breast cancer.
She told RTÉ’s Ryan Tubridy show that she sat one exam 12 hours after her mother died, another on the same day of her mother’s wake, and another two in the days after the funeral mass.
Ms Butler added she felt she had no choice but to sit the remaining exams.
The new pilot scheme will allow bereaved students to sit an alternative Leaving Cert paper in July.
Mr McHugh announced the new provisions on Friday, and said that under the new approach, a special alternative sitting of examinations is to be made available to bereaved students, if required.
The decision was taken by Mr McHugh after he requested a review in January, after the details of the Butler case, into how students are supported in the wake of the death of a close family member during the state examinations.
The scheme defines a close relative as a father, step-father, mother, step-mother, legal guardian, brother, step-brother, half-brother, sister, step-sister, half-sister, grandfather or grandmother.
The State Examinations Commission (SEC) then examined the scheme of Reasonable Accommodations at the Certificate Examinations (RACE) which provides assistance to candidates with special needs in state exams.
Mr McHugh said after hearing the “compelling” interview of Rhona Butler, he felt the need to act, and thanked her for highlighting the issue.
He said: “The death of a loved one is a deeply traumatic event for any young person, which will only be compounded if it occurs in the midst of exams.
“The Leaving Certificate plays a hugely important role in our education system and in the progression of our young people.
“We have a duty to take reasonable measures to support young people who suffer loss at such an important time for them.
“My hope is that the new initiative will go a small way to easing the burden and stress of bereavement and giving students space to focus on their family.”
In reviewing the provision made for students who suffer trauma and adversity at the time of the examination, the SEC considered provision for those who are necessarily absent from some of their examinations following the death of a close relative at the time of the exam.
The scheme will allow for a student to be absent from exams for a three-day period during the June written state exam timetable.
The three-day period will commence from the date of the death of a close relative up to and including the day after the funeral, the three days do not need to be consecutive.
The three-day period is intended to allow bereaved candidates time free from Leaving Certificate examinations to prepare for and attend the funeral of their loved one.
The measures will apply in cases where the death of the close relative occurs during exam time, or in the two days prior to the exams, commencing on June 5.
Alternative sittings will take place over five days — from Monday 8 to Friday July 12 — in an exam centre in Athlone.
The results from the alternative Leaving Certificate examinations will be available at the same time as the main examination results, on August 13 2019.
The new provision will be reviewed following the 2019 Leaving Certificate.