Demonstration against plans to merge schools in Cork City

Parents of students at a girls’ school in North Cork City fear that a proposed merger could jeopardize its inclusive environment and center for Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).

Parents, staff and students at St Vincent Girls’ High School protested outside the school gates against a potential merger of the school with the North Monastery and North Presentation.

In April, the head of the three schools announced that he would begin a consultation process to “explore together the current and future Catholic educational offer in the city of North Cork”.

Three of students Katie Coleman, Éilish Hickey and Laila Abdelnapy holding letters they wrote during the socially distanced protest outside the grounds of St Vincent Girls’ High School. Photo credit: Denis Minihane

St Vincent is known for its ASD center, the Lir Hub, and it was the first school to offer support to students in a single-sex environment.

Mairead Hickey, spokesperson for ‘Save St Vincent’s’ high school, which organized the public demonstration of the unit outside the school, described the autism unit as a sanctuary for its girl.

Her daughter Eilish has just finished her third year and attends the Lir Hub, while her eldest daughter Saoirse is due to start her Leaving Cert at school next week.

“Lir is Eilish’s shrine,” Ms. Hickey said.

“I am very grateful to have Eilish in St Vincent.

It has the best ASD class for girls in Cork, and there is inclusivity throughout the school. It is a rare thing.

Many parents are now concerned that this will be compromised by the merger and have been “devastated” to hear of any potential merger that would see the school become much larger and co-ed.

Co-ed schools don’t work for all students, especially girls who attend ASD centers, she believes.

“Some girls cannot learn in a mixed environment and parents have the right to choose a school for girls. ”

Many parents who have their daughters educated in St Vincent want to preserve it.

Some staff who joined parents and students at the protest outside the school.  Photo credit: Denis Minihane
Some staff who joined parents and students at the protest outside the school. Photo credit: Denis Minihane

“A merger changes a school, it would completely change the environment at St Vincent’s.”

In April, a spokesperson for the patrons of the three schools – the Sisters of Charity, Catholic Education and the Irish Schools Trust (CEIST) and the Edmund Rice Schools Trust (ERST) – said the consultation process would bring together views of boards of directors, staff, students and parents.

“We hope to capture the joys, concerns, hopes and anxieties of all, which will inform a vision for Catholic secondary education in the city of North Cork and serve the community for decades to come. “

Local TD Thomas Gould asked CEIST to rule out a merger, given parents’ concerns.

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