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Minister defends decision to refuse meeting with De La Salle parents

By Nevin Farrell

Published 20/06/2016

Stormont Education Minister Peter Weir
Stormont Education Minister Peter Weir

Stormont Education Minister Peter Weir last night defended his refusal to meet parents campaigning for a resolution to the crisis at a troubled west Belfast school.

The Concerned Parents Committee of De La Salle College in Andersonstown had written to the DUP minister, who recently took over the education brief from Sinn Fein's John O'Dowd.

The committee said it was disappointed at the rejection of its plea for a meeting with Mr Weir.

The news comes as vice-principal Marian O'Neill takes on the role of acting principal today.

An independent investigation into events at the school is currently under way.

There have been ongoing major problems over the last year. About a third of the 70-strong teaching staff at the school were absent for a number of days before the Easter holidays.

A Parents Committee statement said: "At the start of this week the Concerned Parents Committee requested a meeting with the new Minister for Education, Mr Peter Weir MLA.

"We regret to inform that the minister has declined to meet with us. We are extremely disappointed by this announcement as we wanted to discuss matters with the minister that fall outside of the remit of the independent investigation.

"This is further concerning as we know the panel will continue to interview stakeholders throughout the remainder of June and July, therefore demonstrating that the panel are nowhere near a conclusion.

"So much for the delivery of a final report early summer."

On Sunday night, Mr Weir told the Belfast Telegraph: "An Independent Panel is currently in the process of meeting a range of stakeholders associated with the circumstances in the school.

"I also understand that a provisional date has been arranged for the Concerned Parents Committee to meet with them.

"In light of this, I believe it is not appropriate to meet with the Concerned Parents group at this time as the Panel must be allowed to adhere to due process in taking forward this investigation."

Last week it emerged two associate principals, Imelda Jordan and John Wilkinson, have left. They were appointed earlier this year as relations between De La Salle principal Claire White and staff grew tense. The Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) said Ms Jordan and Mr Wilkinson's roles were temporary:

"They are no longer available in these roles as the term comes to an end, however to ensure continuity, they will both provide support to the school as educational associates working through CCMS".

The Concerned Parents Committee has previously called for the principal, vice-principal and board of governors to be stood down, and for an investigation.

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