Gerry O'Donoghue chairing the meeting
Brannoxtown School is not closing – that was the message from the Diocese delivered by Monsignor Dan O’Connor at an emergency meeting called at the village last night.
The Monsignor told the large crowd gathered at the community prefab beside the Baptist Church he had been assured the school can stay open for two years, as long as there are at least eight pupils enrolled.
“The Diocese has no plans to close the school, neither has the Department,” he said.
He said after that period, the Department will look at the demographics and birth rate, the number of people moving in to the area, and then make a decision.
It was an emotional meeting with some parents on the verge of tears as they expressed their views.
Some pointed out enrolment numbers had been falling for some years.
One parent pointed out the school was the focal point of the community and it was absolutely vital it stayed open.
Monsgr. Dan O’Connor, Vicar for Education, and Declan Lawlor, Education Secretariat, Arch Dioceses of Dublin, and Fr. Niall Mackey, Kilcullen, at the Public Meeting. Photo: Tony Keane.
The meeting was chaired by former Athgarvan Principal Gerry O’Donoghue.
The meeting heard, that in September 2016, there were 45 pupils enrolled at the school, but there are just 19 enrolled for next September – many of whom have yet to confirm their places.
Ian Shiel, a former parents rep on the Board of Management asked how many teachers will be employed at the school in September if the numbers drop to 8 to 10. Monsignor said it would be cut immediately to one.
Mr Sheil said many parents would not be happy if their child was in a class of eight spread across the various classes.
Tommy Scully asked; “Why were the pupils leaving. That’s the real issue and what are we going to do about it?”
Mr Shiel asked how many are enrolled in September?
Current parent rep on the board, Jason Mullins said there were a certain amount of people who had not yet made up their mind as they were waiting to see what was happening with the school.
Mr Shiel said that one of the reasons people hadn’t confirmed was “they were afraid there won’t be a school in Brannockstown in September.”
Mr O'Donoghue said he was trying to remain neutral, but he had to make the point that many people were the products of the small school system with mixed classes and they had no complaints. He said there were many parents who wanted to send their children to small schools.
Deirdre Collins, who sent three children to Brannoxtown National School, said she was a graduate of a four class one teacher system in Halverstown.
She said one of the things she loved about Brannoxtown was the mix of all age groups, the way the sixth class pupils looked after the younger ones and how they all had a great bond.
She said the tax payer had funded the new school and “it would be a disgrace if that is left derelict because that is what will happen if the school is closed down.”
Several issues were raised about the running of the school and Mr O'Donoghue said there were mechanisms for addressing complaints that should be gone through and all these avenues exhausted.
Two parents said they had decided to move their daughters from the school because there were no other girls in their class and they wanted them to interact with other girls their own age.
Mr O’Donoghue pointed out there was a perception that other schools in the area were “hoovering up” pupils from Brannoxtown, but he pointed out that under the law no school could refuse to take a child while there are spaces available at that school.
One local resident said the school was founded in 1884 and there was something seriously wrong if a small little school in a beautiful scenic area, an affluent area, was forced to close.
Richie Brophy said he had removed one of his children to a new school when they were in fifth class and it was a difficult decision but it was about doing the best for his child. His wife, Lorna said the issue of falling numbers had been raised with the Board of Management three years ago.
Monsignor O’Connor pointed out that the Whole School Evaluation Report of the school took place in 2016 and was excellent.
He said there were no complaints on record with the Diocese.
Another parent said the reason she wouldn’t want her children in an eight or ten pupil school was that her son loved sport and there wouldn’t be enough people for a team.
She said the school excelled at the recent Credit Union Quiz, but there wouldn’t even be enough of the same age group to form a quiz. She said she had to make the best decision she could for her kids.
Some of the attendance at last night's meeting
Dep Martin Heydon and Cllr Rob Power said they would help in anyway they could.
A resolution was agreed that the community of Brannockstown supported the school and wanted it to stay open.
A special liaison committee was formed to meet with the Board of Management and the Principal to iron out the issues raised.
The meeting was informed time was of the essence and the board of management would be disbanded when the school gets holidays tommorrow Friday.
Mr O’Donoghue said the Department could appoint a special manager in the absence of the board of management to discuss the matters with all parties.
It was also suggested that the committee reach out to those who had chosen to remove their children to see if their concerns could be addressed.
Dep Martin Heydon said he had been in contact with all parties, but the bottom line was that if parents wanted to keep the school open, they would have to keep their children in the school.
One parent said that his comment was “disingenuous” given the difficult decisions faced by parents.
He said he understood it was not easy for them, but if the school could stay open and the liaison committee could try and solve the issues, things might be progressed.
The parent responded that most of the parents who had chosen to remove their children were not at the meeting and they had already made up their minds.
“We have to try,” said Gerry O’Donoghue.
Monsignor O’Connor said there was a school that was dying in the Dublin Dioceses several years ago that came back to life and got its numbers up to 86.