Irish medium Education under threat in Co. Louth at Coláiste Lú

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Colaiste Lu

Press Release from

Secretary Coláiste Lu Parents Council

The parents and pupils of our gaelcholáiste, Coláiste Lú, Dundalk are staging a public protest resulting from the actions of the Principal, Tomas Sharkey, and the LMETB, reneging on commitments and guarantees given regarding the provision of Irish medium education in Co. Louth.

This involves the walkout of all the pupils of Coláiste Lú during school time on Thursday morning (08:45) and a march from the school to picket the offices of LMETB in Chapel St., Dundalk, by the pupils and their parents.

The parents have taken this decision reluctantly after many months and much soul searching. However,resulting from the actions, (and related lack of action) by Principal Sharkey and LMETB Director of Schools,they feel that they have no choice but to publicly protest at the wilful degradation and elimination of Irish medium education in the school.
The parents have also advised LMETB that they no longer have confidence that Principal Sharkey is willing or able to provide and manage Irish medium education to a standard that our children deserve.

The parents are committed to protesting until our patron, LMETB, publicly commit to
– Confirmation of commitment to full immersion Irish language education to pupils, teachers & parents
– Immediate implementation of all issues set out in document – Coláiste Lú, Aonad to Gael Choláiste and largely agreed with LMETB
– Provision of resources (whatever it takes), both fiscal and human, to restore capacity of Irish language medium teaching lost over summer as soon as possible – (days and weeks, not months)
– Confirmation of immediate appointment of dedicated stiúrthóir (with no Coláiste ChúCulainn responsibilities)
– Detailed timetable, agreed with parents, as to when this will happen
– Weekly progress updates

Background
Coláiste Lú is an aonad in Dundalk which was set up to provide deep immersion Irish medium education within an LMETB school, (Coláiste ChúChulainn). It is the only Irish medium school in Louth and a key part of the Irish language infrastructure in the North East.
The school opened in 2013 and successfully operated a deep immersion ethos until 2018-9 when a new principal, (Tomas Sharkey), started to give parents and pupils concerns over his commitment to deep immersion Irish education. After parental pressure LMETB in 2019 committed to policies that would maintain and encourage the deep immersion Irish medium education ethos.
In the first week of this school year the actions of the Principal and LMETB indicate that they have reneged on the commitments made to parents and pupils.
There is now an existential crisis for the very survival of the school.
Parents have sent a letter of no confidence in the Principal to CEO, School Board and LMETB Board.
They are planning a publicity campaign to highlight the crisis the school is in and will be petitioning politicians for their support.
They are asking LMETB for commitments to Irish medium education – see attached

Current school status
We now have a situation where most of the Coláiste Lú pupils are only being taught Irish through the medium of Irish. The 17 new 1st year pupils are only being taught Irish and Geography through Irish. Some Coláiste Lú Irish classes are being integrated with Coláiste ChúChulainn pupils, which results in completely asymmetrical learning. All other subjects are being taught in English. There is not even a shred of commitment to the deep immersion ethos, with Coláiste Lú pupils being split from their peers and put into
classrooms with other pupils. There has been no communication from the Principal or LMETB, official or otherwise, on this.
We now have the situation where students who have studied subjects up to now in Irish, and due to take Junior and Leaving Certificate exams are forced to study in English, with terminology that they do not understand. In a number of instances this difficulty is compounded by the fact English is not spoken at home.
Parents and pupils are upset and angry at this. They are reading that exemptions from studying Irish should be “exceptional” and yet they are being denied their right to continue their studies in Irish.
Parents intend to protest publicly to highlight this assault on Irish medium education, which will include withholding their children from attending school. Parents also wish to advise that they intend to explore all options, including legal options, to have the right of having their children educated through Irish upheld. At recent Coláiste Lú parents’ meetings, this is the unanimous position.
Parents believe that if the situation isn’t resolved decisively by mid-September that Coláiste Lú will cease to exist as most parents will transfer their children out of the school to other schools and away from Coláiste ChúChulainn.

Legal issues parents intend to pursue
1. Communication – (or lack of it) and lack of consultation. No notice given to radical change in policy. This is in contravention of the Parent and Student Charter.
2. Destruction of Irish Language deep immersion – Fundamental to ethos and philosophy of Coláiste Lú. A denial of rights under the Official Languages Act 2003 and in contravention of LMETB published Scheme
3. Policy of denial of Coláiste Lú Parents Association – contravention of Education Act Section 26
4. Coláiste Lú Students Council denial – contravention of Education Act Section 27– This issue also to be referred to Irish Second-Level Students’ Union and Children’s Ombudsman.
5. Potential Health, Safety & Welfare issues from policy of integration and non-provision of a safe space to speak as Gaeilge, in contravention of 2005 Act; also leading to student to self-exclude themselves from outdoor social spaces.
6. Unfair discipline issues where students are punished for speaking ‘as Bearla’ in a non-Irish exclusive environment
7. Actions impacting on stated obligations to assist cross border cooperation under the Good Friday Agreement regarding the provision of broad education system inclusive of all communities. Coláiste Lú has students from N Ireland.
8. All of the above potentially impacting on school attendance, with students not wanting to attend because of atmosphere/environment, an issue defined under the Education (Welfare) Act, 2000 that should be reported to Tusla. Also to be reported to Dept. of Education & Skills Inspectorate, which is charged amongst other things to promote the Irish language.
9. Change from deep immersion environment to learning in English is impacting on Junior & Leaving Cert students
10. Individual quotes from principal which could be considered denigrating to Irish language, Aonad and pupils, or actions to that could be construed as threatening or bullying.
Potential questions for LMETB
– Why did so many Irish medium teachers resign in summer 2019 (c. 2 /3 of all such teachers)?

– Why did so many teachers resign from parent school (c. 1/3 of all teachers)?

– Why was not a single advert for Irish medium positions vacated placed? – i.e. no attempt to replace lost language capacity
– How many teaching positions for parent school were advertised?

– Why was extra teaching resources and a stiúrthóir not requested for Coláiste Lú, despite being approved as an aonad in 2014, and thus eligible for such resources? Parents were advised these additional resources were being requested, where are they being deployed?
– Why has the policy of deep immersion, in place from school opening, been totally abandoned and replaced by a policy of English medium teaching?
– Why were commitments made earlier this year not honoured?
– Why has there been no communication whatsoever with the parents on these significant policy changes?