School labelled a 'hellhole'

Education Parents of St Francis School for children with learning disabilities list problems

School labelled a 'hellhole'
By Lynda Kiernan lynda.kiernan@leinsterexpress.ie @laoisnews

There was fresh anger from parents at St Francis School in Portlaoise this week, claiming that they were being 'bypassed' for a new school, and 'stonewalled' by school management.

All mainstream schoolchildren in Portlaoise will enjoy new buildings next year, while a new 1,000 pupil secondary school will be open by 2017, but the school for children with disabilities remains in an old building.

“I rest my case, this is proof that people with intellectual disabilities are second class citizens,” said chairman of the St Francis New Building sub committee, Mick Gorman, at their public meeting held last Thursday in the Heritage Portlaoise.

Parents outlined conditions in the school, which teaches children from five counties, aged 5 to 18, who have mild to moderate learning disabilities.

“I wish I’d brought my child to this meeting, because my child would say it’s a dump, a kip, a hellhole. Children with special needs who can verbally say it, are saying it. Children are going in wearing their coats in May,” said a mother.

The glass in a door shattered when her son shut it, another mother said.

“He didn’t punch it, it just shattered,” she said, adding that electric heaters were another safety concern.

Another mother said her child’s life is in danger while he gets the bus from school.

“Our children are collected on the side of a road. If my son is not held, it’s the end of his life. I’m a mother fighting for my child, that’s what everyone should be doing,” she said.

Children report rats in the small riverside playground, while buses must vie for parking on the busy street.

Parents report electric cables tying doors shut, and freestanding storage heaters on during summer, which inadequately heat the building.

There are no sensory or therapy rooms.

St Francis is in the 2018 schools building plan. The Department of Education is assessing future needs, and considering the cost of refurbishing St Paul's NS, offered by Portlaoise Parish.

Parents are against a refurb, wanting St Paul's knocked for a new build.

“We need nothing less than a new purpose built airy school like everyone else has in this town. Any talk of refurbishing St Paul’s is disrespectful. And it must start before 2018. That building is an accident waiting to happen. I don’t know how anybody has not been knocked down or drowned,” said Mr Gorman.

“Or electrocuted,” added a parent.

“If they can build a new secondary school for 1,000 children, why not ours? Tiles are missing off the roof, paint is peeling off the walls, and they are using space heaters for children with immune deficiences,” said a mother.

“If that secondary school gets built first, my husband will chain himself to the department building in Tullamore.

“Why should our children get bypassed again,” said parent Breda Oxley, pointing out that parents of special needs children have no choice of school in Laois.

“This is the last resort, the only resort in Laois,” she said.

The meeting was attended by politicians, and about 30 parents and teachers, but no school management, who have reportedly “stonewalled” the committee despite last year agreeing to work together on a new building.

Parents were angry at the lack of support, with one dad suggesting management “do their job or take a hike”.

“I have issues with the patrons of this school discussing causes like mental health. St Francis’ has to be highlighted too,” said parent Breda Oxley.

The committee claim that they were “refused permission to circulate a notice of the meeting in the school”.

They say nobody from St Francis School met a Dept of Education engineer visiting St Paul’s site last July, with the job of showing him around done by two parents.

No letters go to parents on school news they said.

“There is no communication from the school. We have no school calendar.

“The nativity plays were not communicated. That is a big moment, to see your special needs child on stage, and many were not witnessed,” said a parent.

“I can’t understand why we are being treated in such an unfeeling way. If they want to unify, I am more than happy,” said Mr Gorman.

The committee agreed to continue a public campaign.