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Child takes O'Dowd to court over primary school closure

By Rebecca Black

Published 02/07/2015

Education Minister John O'Dowd
Education Minister John O'Dowd

A child with special educational needs is taking Education Minister John O'Dowd to court for closing their school.

Mr O'Dowd announced the shutting of Avoniel Primary in May. It is set to close its doors for the last time on August 31.

But many of the parents argue that they have not had enough notice to find another school for their children.

Now a pupil is taking Mr O'Dowd to court over his decision.

Lawyers representing the child want the High Court to overturn his decision to shut Avoniel Primary.

It had its first mention on Tuesday in court and with the August 31 deadline looming, a judge is set to hear the case early next month.

Mr O'Dowd (right) announced in May he was approving the closure of Avoniel Primary and increasing admissions and enrolment at nearby Elmgrove Primary.

At the time he said the proposals were the first phase in plans to reshape controlled primary provision in east Belfast.

The child who is challenging the decision has special educational needs and is seeking a judicial review.

Lawyers representing the pupil, who cannot be identified, contend that the minister's decision should be quashed because a prior consultation process by the Belfast Education and Library Board was allegedly not properly or fairly conducted.

According to their case, the parents believe that when this exercise was carried out, back in 2014, the board's proposals were already at an advanced stage.

An injunction is also being sought to halt the closure of the school before the legal action is determined.

The case was mentioned in front of Mr Justice Treacy on Tuesday. He will now determine whether the case should advance to a full hearing in four weeks.

A lawyer for the pupil mounting the legal challenge insisted the case has major significance.

Brian Moss, of Worthingtons Solicitors, added: "Local political representatives had raised concerns about the closure of the school during the consultation.

"It is now for the court to decide whether the applicant should be given the right to challenge the minister's decision through a judicial review."

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