AN 11-YEAR-OLD girl who has missed seven of the last 44 school days cannot be taken out of school even if she is being bullied, Judge Eugene O’Kelly has told the girl’s mother.
She was fined a total of €500 at Limerick District Court for breaching compliance notices issued by the National Education Welfare Board requiring her two daughters to attend school more regularly.
Judge Eugene O’Kelly heard that the attendance record of the older daughter, now aged 15, had improved markedly since the case last came up for review in April and that this girl had recently finished her Junior Cert.
But solicitor Muiris Gavin, for the National Education Welfare Board, said concern remained in respect of the younger sister.
This girl had missed seven days of school since April for reasons that included food poisoning, leg cramps, a stomach bug, a “family emergency” and a car breakdown but Mr Gavin said the school had not received any medical certificates to back any of this up.
Tom Kiely, representing the girls’ mother, said she was “not somebody who was burying her head in the sand” on the issue. The older daughter had “not missed a single day” since April and sat her Junior Cert.
But there was “no denying that” the 11-year-old was “having difficulties at school and lashing out”, Mr Kiely said. It took considerable effort every morning to persuade her younger daughter to go to school.
The mother had discovered that her daughter’s difficulties had resulted from being bullied but having since spoken to the primary school principal on the matter, she was satisfied the bullying had stopped.
A single mother-of-five, she was “working with the National Education Welfare Board as best she can”, Mr Kiely said.
With her younger daughter going into a new class in September, there was an opportunity over the summer months to comprehensively address the attendance issue and “start afresh”, he added.
Judge O’Kelly expressed concern in respect of the 11-year-old that 34 absences had been recorded in the school year now ending and “in not one has there been a medical certificate”.
“Many children don’t like school and unfortunately many children are subject to bullying but that doesn’t mean they can be taken out of school,” he said.
The mother should “be under no doubt as to the severity of the penalties” that could apply if the problem persisted, he added.