The case of a pregnant 16 year old being refused a place in a private Catholic school in Munster has caused widespread shock and disgust. The issue came to light in a report from the Ombudsman for Children’s rights.
The 16 year old was refused admission to the school twice, in September 2009 because she was pregnant and again in 2010 because she was a single mother. The principal and owner of the privately run school stated in a defiant manner to the ombudsman that “This school is not a haven for young pregnant people or for young mothers who, in particular, have been in two other post primary schools. The school has an uncompromising ethos and will not become a dumping ground for those rejected elsewhere”. He also stated in a letter to the young woman’s parents that he did not take “such girls” into his school.
These outdated and backward views have shocked people, as they reflect an Ireland we thought we had left behind .The lack of care, consideration and respect shown to the young woman and her family is deeply offensive on a human level. However, there was nothing illegal in what happened to this girl, her baby and her family.
There are no laws or official guidelines from the Department of Education and Science (DES) governing admissions policy. Each school can decide on its own policy or as in the case of the school in this instance, have no admissions policy whatsoever. This leaves the situation open to abuse and discrimination on a number of fronts.
There are approximately 700 women of school going age who have babies every year. While most schools are supportive and assist as much as possible, it is down to each individual school and on an entirely discretionary basis.
All that is currently on offer from the DES to young women is a few hours home tuition while they are pregnant. When the baby arrives there is no support whatsoever for young mothers to continue in education. Without free public childcare, continuing in education is not an option for many young mothers. Some return with the support of family, but this is not always possible. The cost of expensive privately run crèches leaves many with no option but to drop out of the education system altogether.
Access to education is a basic human right for all children and for young mothers that right is no different. There should be an immediate separation of the Church and State. Education is not something to be decided by the religious ethos of individuals. There should be free, publicly funded childcare with flexible hours to suit mothers in education, provided within the school system when necessary.