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Hazelwood lockout finally set to be resolved

A MONTH long dispute between a north Belfast school and the Belfast Education and Library Board which saw nearly 200 students locked out of new school facilities and resulted in a high court case taken by a pupil's mother has finally come to a "satisfactory conclusion".

A meeting between the school, the Department of Education and the board last week concluded that 14 mobile classrooms would be opened for pupil use on September 30.

The sixth-form pupils have been unable to access the site since the beginning of the new school term on September 3, when gates to the facility were locked by the board citing issues with the school's lease for the land.

Discussions between all parties involved had been taking place in recent weeks to try and resolve the issue, with Education Minister John O'Dowd was even presented with a signed petition from pupils, teachers and parents asking for his intervention.

A joint statement released this week said: "A further constructive meeting was held today between Hazelwood Integrated College, Department of Education and BELB to bring the matter to a satisfactory conclusion.

"Outstanding work to ensure health and safety compliance is nearing completion. All parties are working towards pupils accessing the mobile buildings by the week commencing September 30."

A spokesperson for the school also confirmed that the cost of maintenance, lighting and heating in the new classrooms would be paid from the school budget and not by the board.

SDLP North Belfast MLA Alban Maginness has welcomed the news that a resolution has been reached over the pupil lockout.

"I am delighted that this dispute has been resolved and that pupils will be able to return to the school. Whilst it is regrettable that this situation ever arose in the first place I hope that procedures have been put in place to ensure that this doesn't happen again and that better relations between the school, BELB and the Department of Education have been built."

Originally sixth-form students at the school had to be sent home by principal Kathleen Gormley because of a shortage of classroom accommodation and teachers have had to use offices and storerooms to teach classes.

It is not yet clear whether the mother of a pupil who took the case to the High Court will seek to take further action over the loss of learning facilities for nearly one month.

A statement by KRW LAW, who are representing the mother said that they would look at the legal issues arising from the situation but "at this stage the priority is to get the children back into school".

Belfast Telegraph