Walkout fracas spirals
27th March 2003, by Brian Campbell
A second college in Newry has warned that students attending anti-war rallies may face severe disciplinary action. Students from the Newry and Kilkeel Institute (NKI) had planned a lunchtime protest in Hill St in Newry yesterday. The incident follows five students at Abbey Grammar School being suspended for not following school procedures when attending a mass walkout on March 5th.
A NKI student said pupils had been emailed by school authorities about the rally. Nobody at the institute was prepared to comment on the matter yesterday.
Dermot McGovern, the principal of the Abbey, said the details of school sanctions would remain an internal matter, but admitted two of five students disciplined had been suspended for 8 weeks. “Nobody was suspended for attending the war rally. It’s not just to do with that, there is a broader span of disciplinary issues,’ he said.
“Pupils were asked to follow the correct procedures and this would happen with any rally, it’s not about war or Iraq..” He said no pupil suspended fell into the category of “going to the rally, full stop, with no other disciplinary issues.”
Mr. McGovern said that students from years one to five who wanted to attend the protest had to bring in a letter from a parent, have the school verify it and then be picked up by the parent. The same procedure applied for years six and seven, although they did not have to be picked up. He said the matter had been blown out of proportion and said claims that the school had locked pupils in on the day of the protest were false.
SDLP councilor Pat McElroy said that the Abbey pupils were being “denied their right to education. This would be detrimental to their futures at an important time in their lives. Thousands of pupils took place in protests in England, Wales, Scotland and the republic, so was the same criteria applied to them? People’s feelings are running very high on this issue,” he said.
Following a motion passed in Newry and Mourne District Council schools in the area will be sent a letter urging them to show leniency toward pupils to protest against the war on Iraq.
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