Community leaders hit out at school closure plan

ANGER is growing in the local community over the proposal to close St Mary’s PS in Fivemiletown, with local church and political leaders speaking out in support of the school.
The Council for the Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) has refused to withdraw a proposal to close the village school, despite the Bishop of Clogher Larry Duffy shifting his position to support its retention and the local parish priest also stressing the school should remain open.
“St Mary’s in Fivemiletown is at the heart of our parish community, and is central to the survival of our parish church into the future,” said Fr Gallagher. “It is a vibrant school in which I’ve seen countless children flourish.”
Fr Gallagher said the long-standing Shared Education partnership with Fivemiletown PS showed a commitment to improving local community relations, and said the closure of the school would be “a great blow to our local community.”
“CCMS have failed to engage in any meaningful way with me, in my role as a local trustee, at any stage in this process, and have failed to respond to my attempts to contact them,” he continued.
“Furthermore, they have failed to acknowledge that Bishop Duffy, who is one of the Diocesan Trustees who made the original proposal, has now publicly stated his support for St Mary’s, and believes at the very least that we should be given more time to properly consider options for our future.”
The school’s board of governors has repeatedly submitted requests for proper consideration to be given to a range of options for its future, however the CCMS has refused to change it position.
Chairman of the school board, Fergal Foy, said it was “disappointing” the views of their parish priest were being ignored.
“Even the Bishop of Clogher seems unable to stop this process,” said Mr Foy.
“We thought CCMS were supposed to promote and protect education provision, but instead they are being allowed to get away with pushing an agenda to close our school, regardless of all of the evidence to show just how sustainable we are.
“Our community will not just allow this to happen, and we will continue to fight together to protect the interests of our children.”
Local political representatives have also added their support for the school.
Áine Murphy MLA said it was a family-centred environment, which played a huge role in the local community, with a long tradition of providing top class education and supporting the community.
“This is a rural school and given the opportunity, it can thrive,” said Ms Murphy.
Colm Gildernew MLA noted enrolment at St Mary’s had been increasing in the last number of years, with new families moving to the area and demand for housing spiking in the area.
He said he understood St Mary’s was financially stable and met all the criteria within the Sustainable Schools Policy, including in academic standards, leadership and management, accessibility, and community links.
“Removing primary provision from this area would result in significant increases in travel distances and time for the families impacted,” said Mr Gildernew, who added St Mary’s could be “a model of good practice going forward.”
Deborah Erskine MLA said Fivemiletown was a close-knit community, and closing St Mary’s could impact the progress in building local community relationships and could “destroy the fantastic shared learning opportunities linked with the controlled schools nearby.”
“It seems unreasonable that this proposal was put forward given how the School has continued to grow and go from strength to strength in recent years,” she said.

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