'I cried when I found out': Protest to fight back against northside schools amalgamation

Parents and students of St Vincent’s Secondary School have spoken to Breda Graham and Sarah Horgan about why they are fighting against an amalgamation plan that would see pupils moved from their current location next September.
'I cried when I found out': Protest to fight back against northside schools amalgamation

St Vincent’s Secondary School, which may have its doors closed by this time next year, as it is due to amalgamate with North Presentation Secondary School in Farranree. Picture: Denis Boyle

Parents of children attending St Vincent’s Secondary School in Cork have insisted they will fight to keep the school doors open next year.

A proposal from Catholic Education Irish Schools’ Trust (CEIST) and the Religious Sisters of Charity to amalgamate St Vincent’s Secondary School on St Mary’s Road with the North Presentation Secondary School in Farranree from next September, was approved by the Department of Education.

It is proposed that the amalgamated schools will be based in the North Presentation building, meaning that more than 230 students attending the all-girls St Vincent’s Secondary School will have to leave their building next year.

However, parents have said that they will drive forward in the fight to keep the doors of the school that their daughters love so much open next September.

Concerned parents attended a meeting last week organised by the Parents Association at the school, and there are plans for a protest on the issue later this week.

Some parents at the meeting said that their daughters were constantly in tears about the news, not getting adequate sleep, and also not eating properly, while others said their daughters who are due to sit exams are now dealing with this additional stress.

People also raised concerns about the level of consultation and the speed at which the decision was made.

The meeting, which was co-chaired by Parents Association members Christine McGowan and Sonya Lane, discussed what actions could be taken to have the voices of the students and parents heard.

It was decided that a protest would be held. It is set to take place at the school on St Mary’s Road tomorrow, Saturday, at 1.30pm.

Parents Association

In a statement issued on behalf of the Parents Association at St Vincent’s Secondary School, members said that parents of students at the school have been “completely blindsided by the information being put forward in the media regarding the proposed amalgamation of St Vincent’s Secondary School and North Presentation”.

The process began in March last year, within days of students arriving back to the school building after months of online learning, and at that time parents publicly raised concerns that this ‘consultation process’ was the beginnings of an amalgamation.

The parents association say it was stressed to them that this was simply a ‘consultation process’ to explore the future of Catholic Education in the northside of Cork city and they feel parents were misled.

“The fact that the trustees issued media statements before allowing staff adequate time to inform students and parents goes to show the level of disregard they have for us as parents, our daughters, and our beautiful school community.”

The Parents Association has acknowledged that while it may be in the best interest of both schools to amalgamate eventually, parents are “extremely concerned at the speed at which it is being proposed”.

Meeting

Speaking at the meeting, Christine McGowan said that the Parents Association will seek a meeting with the trustees.

Speaking to The Echo, mother Audrey Maguire who is also a past pupil of the school, said: “The anxiety levels of the students in the school are gone through the roof. My daughter is only after coming into first year and she’s still only finding her feet. She’s still adjusting.

“They’ve been in this school since they were five years of age, most of them girls. They have been here since primary.”

Deborah O’Sullivan, whose daughter will be in the Leaving Cert year next September, raised concerns about the added stress and anxiety that will be put on exam students in particular.

“For the last two years, there was no Junior Cert or anything so none of them kids are prepared for a State examination, and now they’re going into State exams this year and next year and they have this now, the stress and the effects to their mental health, on top of that. It’s devastating.”

Michelle Gould, whose daughter is in first year said she thought the decision was “disrespectful and degrading to people on the northside”.

“I have a daughter who started in first year and she’s settled brilliantly. It’s a fabulous school and we live four minutes away and all of that is going to be up in the air now for what?

“We’re very aggrieved. It’s very important that people come out and support us. Even people in the community, just to fight for this school in the community because who knows what could happen if we start leaving our services go, because it could be something else then in the next year.

“We have to let them see that we’re not going to be forgotten about and we’re not going away. Sometimes it’s those who shout the loudest that will probably get somewhere.

“It’s no disrespect to the North Pres, that’s the important thing.

“It’s just we have to fight our own fight. We’re all northside, we’re all parents at the end of the day and we sent our girls here so are we not within our rights to have the school here for our girls,” she said.

Department statement

A spokesperson for the Department of Education spokesperson told The Echo the request for amalgamation and change of status of the schools has been granted.

“The Department has received correspondence from the patrons of North Presentation Secondary School and St Vincent’s Secondary School requesting approval to amalgamate and change of status to co-educational. This correspondence described a thorough local consultation process with school communities. This request for amalgamation and change of status has been granted.”

The spokesperson added that the most appropriate location is the current site of North Presentation Secondary School.

“The patrons have also requested capital funding to facilitate the accommodation of the amalgamated school on a single site. Following technical assessment, the Department has determined that the most appropriate location is the current site of North Presentation Secondary School. The Department is currently engaging with the patron body of this school regarding this request for capital funding with a view to ensuring that the school accommodation will facilitate a broadened curriculum and make provision for students with special educational needs,” the spokesperson said.

‘I feel like everything we have created will be left to rot’

St Vincent's pupils spoke to The Echo about why they are unhappy with the amalgamation plans, amid concerns about how the decision will affect students on the autism spectrum.

Eilish Hickey from Blarney attends the Lir Hub in the secondary school and is one of many students set to be impacted by the changes. The facility will shut its doors and move to the North Presentation building as both secondary schools move forward as a co-educational establishment from 2023.

Eilish said she feels that she and her classmates from the Lir Hub, which offers supports to children with autism, are being treated like statistics and are “not being heard.”

"We are leaving a building we worked really hard to make special,” she said. 

“I feel like everything we created will be left to rot and fade away into the obscurity of history. 

"The time we spend to make St Vincent’s what it is means it is not just a building but an experience in a way.” 

The 16-year-old said she feels that students like herself are being treated like statistics.

“The Lir Hub wasn’t considered in this process. It’s like the trustees forgot that we aren’t statistics on a sheet and instead are young people whose voices are being ignored-at least in this situation.”

Eilish opened up about the emotional toll the decision has taken.

“I cried when I found out the news. They are basically uprooting a bunch of people who like schedule and routine and throwing them into an unfamiliar situation with no heads up. It is difficult for students finding their place as well as those who are well-established. 

"It would be the same as taking a beautiful flower from the soil and planting it in a desert. There’s no way it can be expected to grow in those conditions.” 

Eilish’s best friend and classmate at the Lir Hub, Laila Abdelnapy from Cobh said she was also deeply affected by the decision. She described how beneficial the Lir Hub has been for her social and emotional development.

“Before St Vincent’s, my anxiety was really high,” Laila said. “It took me a while to find a safe space where I could be myself and not really care. 

"They made me feel comfortable. I am worried about not being able to focus on the Leaving Cert with everything going on. I also don’t want to be split from my friends.”

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