Families ‘devastated’ over special schools u-turn

Disability groups seek urgent meeting with Minister Foley.

Three leading advocacy organisations representing students with additional needs, Down Syndrome Ireland, Inclusion Ireland and AsIAm, have said that the Government’s u-turn over the re-opening of special schools has left families of children with special educational needs ‘devastated’, and immediate supports must be put in place for them.

The groups have sought an urgent meeting with Minister for Education Norma Foley, who is engaging with education stakeholders today.

Speaking today, Barry Sheridan, CEO of Down Syndrome Ireland said: “This announcement has left families and children with special educational needs reeling. This morning, families are worried about what further regression and distress will be experienced during another potentially lengthy closure period with no plan on how these children can be supported by the State. We are seeking an urgent meeting on behalf of students with special educational needs and their families to discuss measures that can be introduced and arrangements that can be put in place to mitigate this situation for children. We understand the Minister is meeting with key stakeholders today – it is vital that children with a disability are represented and included.

“Over 18,000 young people have once again been left behind in our response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Whilst across Europe governments and education partners have prioritised vulnerable young people, once again children with additional needs, many of whom are unable to learn online, have been left to suffer. The loss of in-school support has a major developmental impact on our children – one they will feel throughout their lives. We know that 61% of autistic young people lost key skills in areas such as communication, social interaction, self-regulation and personal care during the last lockdown period.”

Enda Egan, CEO of Inclusion Ireland, said: “It is incumbent on us all to work together to find a solution to prevent any further damage being done during this lockdown. We are now 10 months into this pandemic, and it is unacceptable that no contingency plans are in place to support students with special educational needs. In-school supports are and have happened safely in other jurisdictions and have operated safely here and have not been found to breach public health guidelines. They are an essential service just like disability daycare settings”

Adam Harris, CEO of AsIAm, said: “We are calling for Home Tuition to be made available to every student enrolled in special class and school and to students in mainstream education who are unable to learn remotely. Furthermore, we need to see how the Department has learned from the last school closure period when our young people suffered greatly – we need assurances that teachers will provide one-to-one support remotely, that communication from the Departments and schools will be clear and consistent and that the expert agencies of the Department will be available to advise parents and support young people in the days ahead.”

Down Syndrome Ireland, Inclusion Ireland, and AsIAm have written to Minister for Education Norma Foley seeking an urgent meeting.

A copy of the letter is available to read here.

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