Parents of 100 children with learning disabliities in St Francis’ School have forced school management to work with them in seeking a new school.
A special public meeting was called on behalf of parents last Tuesday June 2, at which a sub-group was formed combining school management and parents, to work towards getting a new building to replace the outdated, cramped, poorly insulated school on the Timahoe road in Portlaoise.
St Francis’ does not even have a sensory room, comparing badly to a similar school in Carlow. St Lazarian’s has a therapy pool, indoor gym and a soccer pitch among other facilities.
The packed meeting in the Heritage Hotel was organised by Laois Down Syndrome and Laois Offaly Families for Autism. Parents aired their frustration at previous poor communication from the school board, whose secretary is principal Marian Whyte, and chairman is Fr Paddy Byrne.
Both joined the sub-group, along with parents council members, parents, and Chairman of Laois Down Syndrome Mick Gorman, who called the lack of reply from the board to his letter “not professional”.
“It has been very hard to get communication. I’m not interested in a blame game, just where we go from here for our children,” he said.
Fr Paddy Byrne agreed it was “not right” that St Francis’ was left waiting while mainstream schools in Portlaoise get bright new buildings.
“Children who are the most vulnerable deserve the same as every other child, if not more,” he said.
He apologised for the lack of communication.
“It will not happen again. If we collaborate as from now, the parish are 100 percent behind this, you have our full support,” he said, suggesting St Paul’s NS on the Borris road.
However parents are concerned about that site.
“I have a child who bolts, and has no sense of danger. I have safety concerns, cars speed down that road. Some children have walking aids, some have wheelchairsor epilepsy, god forbid one took a fit at the top of a stairs,” said one.
Chair of the parents council Breda Oxley was heartened to hear a figure of €3 million mentioned by Senator John Whelan to refurbish St Paul’s.
“That sounds good, but stick another million on, we need therapy rooms, soft rooms, perhaps a pre-school and ideally playing fields. St Paul’s is a big site,” she said, suggesting demolition and a new single storey school.
Ed and Geraldine Shanahan have a 12 year old daughter with autism. “Parents are not going to lie down now, this is the start and if we all work together we will get somewhere,” said Ed.