ANGRY parents demanding a fair deal for special needs children in a Ross school slammed "not fit for purpose" have been promised their pleas won’t go unheard.
Earlier this year, the North Star told how a series of politicians – amongst them children’s minister Maree Todd MSP – united behind a call for action on St Clement’s in Dingwall, condemned by the area’s MSP Kate Forbes as "like something out of Oliver Twist".
After a visit to the school – which serves pupils from as far afield as the Black Isle, Ullapool and Alness – Mrs Todd said the Victorian-era buildings were "not fit for purpose".
The buildings lack appropriate facilities; there are three separate buildings which force children to go outside in all weathers to reach the dining room and the school has had frequent issues with its heating system.
But parents who have battled for years say that despite pledges made by Highland Council they would be kept in the loop about a search for a new site, they’ve heard nothing in over a month and not even had emails acknowledged.
Parent Joanna Dymock said: "It is heart-breaking to find that all the statements we have heard are proving empty and misleading. Highland Council has misled us about their intentions and misled us about decisions taken by a previous Parent Council. We have endeavoured to work together to find a solution, but they have gone from spouting hollow assurances to being a brick wall.
"Whatever platitudes we hear now from the HC we have heard them all before and it seems they mean nothing. Denying so many vulnerable children their right to an equal and accessible education, for so long – decades – well, there are no words."
She stressed: "The staff continue to do all in their power to offer the opportunities the Highland Council neglect to provide, however it is indisputable that our kids, due to their complex needs, require their own facilities to achieve true inclusion in their school and community and have the chance to blossom. The council must surely be held to account for its neglect."
Parents question whether Highland Council has applied for extra funding for the school or taken advantage of developer contributions required when new housing is built. They say they’re lobbying the Scottish Government and politicians "and it is our hope they will support our children’s lawful right to a suitable education".
They’re unhappy that despite being described as a priority in the capital plan, there appears to be no sense of urgency.
Another parent told the North Star: "I am flabbergasted at the blatant bad manners and complete lack of respect towards the Parent Council. Not even an acknowledgement or an out of office reply. These people are in a position to represent their community and this is a shocking reflection of their attitudes. It makes me so angry. It also suggests that our children’s rights are way down their agenda. However, I am not surprised as the longer the Parent Council have campaigned, the more neglectful they have become."
Dingwall and Seaforth councillor Alister Mackinnon, who is also Highland Council’s budget leader, yesterday told the North Star: "They have my word it won’t slip off the radar. It is humbling and embarrassing when you go into the school. The teachers and staff are fantastic and we are aware of the issues with the buildings."
Initial findings of an investigation into potential sites, one understood to be in Dingwall and another in Conon Bridge, will be reported back to a Highland Council group next week, he said. He promised parents would be kept updated "before the end of the school term".