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Catholic school pupils take case for integration to Stormont

By Rebecca Black

The pupils of the only Catholic school which has sought to open its doors to integration have taken their campaign to Stormont.

Last month Education Minister John O'Dowd rejected a request from Clintyclay Primary School to transform into an integrated school, and instead approved a proposal by the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) to close it down.

Supporters of the Co Tyrone school were devastated to be told that it would close its doors for the final time next June.

A campaign with a petition and fundraising events has been launched to keep it open and pursue its goal of becoming an integrated school.

Around 20 Clintyclay pupils aged from four to 11 years travelled from their rural location just outside Dungannon yesterday to visit Stormont and hand in the petition.

They also received a tour of the building from Alliance MLA Trevor Lunn.

Clintyclay parent Ailsa McGeown said yesterday's visit was to highlight their concerns about the decision to close the historic rural school.

Clintyclay's numbers had fallen in recent years to 23, but this year they rose again to 33 as the school started moving towards integrated status.

Supporters argue that integrated education is strongly desired in the area.

Mrs McGeown says the school forms a vital part of the local community, adding that three generations of her husband's family attended.

"We gave Trevor Lunn a letter highlighting our concerns and a petition that we are circulating gathering support," she said.

"The campaign is ongoing and we'll be meeting at the end of the week to decide the next step."

The chair of Stormont's Education committee, Michelle McIlveen, previously queried why Clintyclay's request was refused when there is a clear demand in the area for an integrated school.

Belfast community worker Baroness May Blood has spoken out in support of Clintyclay's bid to become integrated and also criticised the CCMS for proposing the school's closure.

"I fully respect the right of parents to choose a Catholic school for their children but why would the CCMS seek to thwart attempts by parents seeking an integrated choice," she said.

"Maybe the fact that parents at Clintyclay Catholic Maintained Primary School recently voted to transform their school to integrated status has spooked the horses and the CCMS are fearful other Catholic parents will step forward in support of shared learning with their Protestant neighbours."

Making his decision to close Clintyclay last month, Mr O'Dowd said enrolment at the school was "such that it is not sustainable into the future".

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