RELATIONS between teaching staff and management at Colaiste Chiarain in Croom have reached a new low after TUI members voted to take industrial action over management practices at the school.
With students on mid-term break this week, parents remain concerned about how the dispute will affect their children over the coming weeks and months, with one parent commenting: “The parents would probably be the last to be notified.”
It is understood that staff have identified a list of 15 grievances relating to the operation and management of the school and its high-profile principal, Noel Malone.
Limerick and Clare Education and Training Board (formerly the VEC) said it is “committed to working with school management and staff, to resolving this situation urgently through normal industrial relations procedures”.
“Parents and students can be assured that the matter will not impact on the quality of education service and provision in Colaiste Chiarain,” a statement released to the Leader this Wednesday said.
However, many parents are concerned about how any potential industrial action could impact on them. They have received no contact from either school management or LCETB since news of the dispute emerged.
One parent who spoke to the Leader said she would be concerned if her child was in an exam class. However, she added: “I am glad that the teachers have acknowledged that there is a problem and that they are taking steps to address it. I am hoping that there will be some sort of resolution.
“When you see your kids coming home from school in tears, you know there is something wrong in that community,” she said.
Staff who are members of the Teachers Union or Ireland (TUI) voted in favour of the action when they were balloted in the school last Thursday.
One source said the dispute related to ongoing issues between management and staff in the school. “This is something that has been brewing for a while,” he said.
The situation came to a head last Tuesday when teachers at the school held a meeting in an Adare hotel at which they agreed to be balloted for industrial action.
That ballot took place the following Thursday in the school, with about 40 TUI members taking part, even though the school was closed at the time due to the heavy storm of the previous day.
If the issues identified by staff are not addressed by the LCETB, which is the patron of the school, the ballot gives TUI members the option of taking industrial action up to and including a strike.
A spokesman for the TUI confirmed that the union had approved the industrial action.
“This issue of a dispute in a Limerick school came before union’s executive committee last Friday, where a proposal for industrial action was approved following a ballot of members in the school,” he said.
“As with any such workplace dispute, the union will continue to seek resolution of the matter through the established industrial relations mechanisms and will not be making any further comment at this time.”
Mr Malone is out of the country and did not respond to a number of questions about the dispute put to him by the Leader this week.
One of these related to reports that there have been at least two cases taken by staff through the VEC’s internal disciplinary procedures relating to allegations of bullying and harassment in recent years.
Several members of the school’s board of management who were contacted by the Leader this week said they were unaware that staff had balloted for industrial action.
Chairman of the LCETB, Limerick city councillor Denis McCarthy acknowledged he was aware of the situation. However he stressed: “It is a management situation and we don’t get into that. I, as chairman, can’t allow something like that to come on the agenda.
“All disputes are resolved eventually and hopefully this will be settled as well for the benefit of the school, the pupils and the teachers,” added Cllr McCarthy.
Mr Malone has taken a high-profile position in relation to cyber-bullying in recent years. Last year, he suspended 28 students over an offensive Facebook comment and he has called for a national helpline to deal with cyber-bullying.