A Northern Ireland man has told of his anger after police were called to remove his 14-year-old son from outside a local school.
Two officers arrived at Holywood’s Rudolf Steiner School at around noon on Monday to deal with a young boy, Ben Geraghty, who was staging a peaceful protest over unpaid fees.
The teenager’s parents have now been told that none of their three children, who are currently pupils, are welcome at the school.
They also received a letter threatening action from a debt collection agency for arrears.
The protester’s father, Jonny Geraghty – who had a 20-year relationship with the Co Down establishment up until three days ago, said he will be taking further action over his “serious concerns”.
The father-of-six has already written to Lady Sylvia Hermon, a school trustee, to express his anger over the incident and he has also contacted the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship (SWSF), the umbrella body.
A police spokesman last night confirmed that two separate calls were made to the PSNI on Monday about “a situation at the school” and that officers attended.
Mr Geraghty, a 44-year-old house husband, said what had happened is completely contrary to the philosophy of Steiner schools, where “the child is meant to come first”.
“I am furious that two armed police came into the school grounds on Monday and asked Ben to leave,” he said.
“My son apologised to the officers for wasting their time and he left the premises immediately.
“He’s devastated about what happened. He said he was told to leave class ‘because your parents won’t pay the fees’.
“My other son Leon had also gone in with Ben that morning, just as both of them have done since they were three years old, but he left his class at 9.20am after being told to do so.”
Mr Geraghty added: “Finances should never have been brought into this.
“If you look at the philosophy of the Steiner education, it becomes very clear that the school has lost it’s way… but I am beyond anger that the police were called out to deal with a young boy who just wanted to go to lessons.”
Jonny and his wife Anita (46), a midwife, have six children – Shakeel (29), Kamal (27), Lucy (18), Ben (14), Leon (13) and Amelie (10) – and have sent all of them to Holywood Steiner, apart from their eldest son Shakeel.
“They all went to pre-school when they were three years old, followed by kindergarten and then class one,” he said.
“Lucy went right through to class 11 and Kamal went for what would effectively be first year to fourth year.”
Parents pay school fees to Holywood Steiner based on their income, but problems arose when the Geraghtys were told theirs were increasing from £280 to £594 per month because Anita’s wages had gone up.
Last week, the couple received a letter telling them they were going to “withdraw your children’s school place from Friday, January 26” – meaning that Ben, Leon and Amelie (who didn’t go to school on Monday) are now not in education.
The document further stated that they now owe arrears amounting to £1,922, adding: “If you do not contact us your debt will be passed onto our collection agency”.
Mr Geraghty said everything that has happened has given him no alternative but to home school his children himself because they will be unable to adapt to mainstream educational institutions.
“It’s a different type of education at Steiner,” he said.
“My 10-year-old daughter still believes in fairies and Santa Claus, and is two years behind the maths ability of primary school pupils and at least a year behind the reading ability.
“She’s gone down a totally different path of education so for her to go into state schooling would be a massive shock.
“It would be the same for my 13-year-old son Leon.
“Ben could probably do it, but he has told me himself that he’s apprehensive about going to another school.”
A PSNI spokesman said: “Police were contacted at around 9.15am on January 29 regarding a situation at the school, however, it was determined to be a civil matter and police did not attend.
“Officers were then called a second time to an alleged disturbance.
“Officers attended, however, no disturbance was noted on their arrival.”
In a statement, the Steiner School said it was unable to comment on family financial matters.
It added: “We can tell you that the school has followed the correct procedures.”
Steiner education is based on the educational philosophy of Rudolf Steiner.
It emphasises the role of imagination in learning, striving to integrate holistically the intellectual, practical and artistic development of pupils.