07 Oct 2022

Laois parents vent their fury at school closure confusion

Laois parents vented their fury on Sunday night as they scrambled to find information on school closures because of adverse weather conditions.

Due to the ice, snow and plummeting temperatures on Sunday evening, many clearly expected schools to close.

Parents anxiously awaited any news on whether they would have to travel or organise alternative childcare. In many cases they had to wait late into Sunday night to receive any clarity on the situation.

There was, however, confusion in some schools as to who had the power to make the decision to close. 

The Holy Family Junior School in Portlaoise opened on Monday for its 700 pupils. 

Principal Enda Hickey said no notification was received nor expected from the Department of Education. 

"The Department allows Boards of Management to make that call, except in cases of a Status Red alert like Ophelia," he said.

Some schools were expecting advice from the Department of Education including Laois Offaly ETB.

Its chief executive Joe Cunningham said on Sunday that they would be "guided by instruction from the Department."

The ETB opted to open thier Laois schools following no instructions.

Mountrath Community School opened on Monday. The principal Ms McCarthy stated that "only the Department of Education has authority to declare school closed in such circumstances."

A spokesperson for the Department of Education said that the decision lies with the Board of Management under the provision of the Education Act 1998.

"Under the provisions of the Education Act 1998, a board of management is responsible for the day to day running of a school. Therefore, it is a matter for individual boards of management to decide whether local weather and road conditions warrant the closure of a school. In making these decisions, schools should consider such issues as access and safety.

"The Department are continuing to monitor the situation nationwide and will follow any advice from the National Emergency Coordination Group," they said. 

Parents were concerned about travelling in such dangerous conditions with their children. These comments from Leinster Express readers in Sunday night show what parents were thinking.

"Really think all schools should be closed roads are lethal already. Will only get worse overnight. Safety first," said Mooney Tormey Sil.

"Think it's awful they are opening," wrote Grace Delaney-Keegan.

Avril Rogers responded to the previous comment with "Me too it’s extremely dangerous on the roads!! Seems to be when it suits them!!"

Another Leinster Express reader, Shane Nolan, said that the "roads are like glass".

Lydia Ohara said that it is "ridiculous" that schools are "putting peoples lives in danger".

"I agree they should stay closed too many cars on the roads that will be covered with ice is a bad idea ..there will be crashes and there will be children in these cars....bad call by the board.." said Joe O'Connor.

 "If roads are so bad and are to get worse overnight and its all about safety for our children why are primary, secondary and 3rd level colleges opening," said Martina Norman

"Bad call by the Department of Education," added Mooney Tormey Sil.

"Has anybody taken our children’s safety into consideration?" Louise Smith asked.

Emer Carroll also disagreed with the decision. "Very bad call in my opinion. Scoil Chriost Ri in Portlaoise open tomorrow but took last Friday off to use up a spare day they had left over ... Absolute madness. Our School transport not going to travel tomorrow due to adverse weather but school is open... At least bus company put safety first," she said.

"Deegan's buses not running either due to the roads being lethal and they drop off at all Portlaoise Colleges...Absolutely Crazy Decision!" Tara Ona added.

"Only in Ireland will the close the country for a bit of wind and when the roads are treacherous and unsafe for travel they don't give a continental! " said Ciara Muldoon Whyte.

"They'll only be in and sent home at 10 or 11 cos pipes frozen or heating not working, bad call overall," Shane Nolan added.

"Bus companies are not travelling tomorrow, the roads are already like glass before it gets worse overnight! What a stupid dangerous decision this was, too late changing your mind in the morning when parents will have to make plans" said John Conroy.

"Ye really really need to rethink this. How safe are things for these children in the schoolyard in the morning.   Totally selfish decision , " said Cecilia Thomas.

Parent's fears came true on Tuesday morning when a school bus skidded off the road into a ditch on its way to Coláiste Íosagáin in Portarlington. 

The bus is understood to have slipped on ice on the Bog Road, down into the soft margin on the side of the road, where it got stuck.

Around 18 students had to get out of the bus which seats about 20, and walk about 300m to their school.

Luckily, there were no injuries.

The principal Seamus Bennett with a deputy principal attended the scene to ensure the safety of their pupils.

"I am glad no-one was hurt. My concern was that the students were fine and they were," he said.

Read the full story here.

#SNOW - More heavy wintry showers in the Met Éireann forecast for this week.

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