A north Belfast secondary school has been plunged into chaos by a land row which has left pupils locked out of new mobile classrooms, the High Court heard yesterday.
Lawyers for the mother of a fourth year boy at Hazelwood Integrated College claimed children are being denied a right to education due to the ongoing dispute.
But a judge adjourned her legal action until more details can be provided on issues surrounding the impasse and efforts to maintain teaching.
Mr Justice Treacy also wants to know more about an alleged “unauthorised access” to the secured site where a section of fencing was removed and a gate installed.
New mobile units were built at Hazelwood in preparation for the new school year.
But access to land on which they are located remains padlocked shut by Belfast Education and Library Board.
Around 200 sixth form pupils were sent home early on the first day of term due to the shortage of classroom accommodation. The authority claims the school did not have the proper paperwork in place to open the new facilities. Issues have been identified around the lease, planning, a building control certificate and health and safety.
In her legal challenge, the boy’s mother wanted the judge to order the Board to allow temporary access to the classrooms until the dispute is resolved. Her barrister, Malachy Magowan, argued that the situation was irrational and unlawful.
“The situation is one of chaos which is not conducive to a learning environment,” he said. Mr Magowan contended that students were suffering as a result of the dispute, with his client’s son denied access to classrooms for subjects including maths and religious education. He said the boy, who is beginning GCSE studies, was now at a crucial stage which would help shape his future.
The Board, which owns the fenced-off section of land, had padlocked the area because it said the school’s lease had not yet been approved.
Further talks between the school, Board and the Department of Education were due to resume later yesterday – and the News Letter understands another meeting is planned for Friday. Counsel for the Board, Paul McLaughlin, asked for an adjournment of the judicial review hearing to see if progress can be made in those discussions.
“These authorities wish to address this difficulty as soon as possible and are anxious to achieve a resolution one way or another very quickly,” he said.
Adjourning the case for two weeks, Mr Justice Treacy requested further affidavits from the boy’s mother and the school principal. He added that the latter should deal with an alleged “unauthorised access” to the site after it was sealed off. The judge pointed out: “I have been told a section of fencing was removed and replaced by a gate.”