Disability and Family Carer groups welcome commitment to prioritise re-opening of schools for students with special educational needs

Commitments must now be matched by urgent delivery, say representative organisations.

Four leading advocacy organisations representing students with additional needs and their carers, Down Syndrome Ireland, Inclusion Ireland, AsIAm and Family Carers Ireland, have welcomed a commitment from the Minister for Education, Norma Foley TD, that the re-opening of schools for students with special educational needs is to be prioritised by Government, but warned that the commitment must be delivered on, and interim measures put in place urgently.

Speaking following a meeting with the Minister for Education, a spokesperson for the groups said:

“We welcome the engagement today with Minister for Education, Norma Foley TD, and Minister of State for Special Education and Inclusion, Josepha Madigan TD, and the commitment to prioritise the re-opening of schools for students with special educational needs as a matter of urgency. We sought a firm commitment that students with SEN would be back in the classroom as soon as possible, and the Minister has undertaken to do all she can to deliver on that.

“We also welcome the commitment to examine a range of interim measures to support children with SEN and their families in the coming weeks, and to further consultation with representative groups. However, what we need to see now is delivery and follow-through on these commitments. The Government must not let our vulnerable students and their families down again.

“We made it clear to the Minister that a range of support options was needed for students with SEN and their families, but that the number one priority had to be getting students in special schools, special classes and students with SEN in mainstream classes back in the classroom. In the interim, the Minister committed to examining measures such as enhanced in-person supports, a partial re-opening of schools for students with SEN, the roll out of Parents Plus Programme for parents of children with special needs and the provision of a Summer Scheme style programme.

“Our groups have been inundated by messages from parents and carers over the weekend about the impact school closures is having on their children – including significant behavioural issues and serious regression. The Minister acknowledged the serious pressure that parents and family carers are under and recognised the urgency in alleviating this pressure.

“The onus is now on the Government to work closely with teaching unions and stakeholders to find a solution that allows our most vulnerable students safely return to the classroom, and supports made available to those who cant.”