EDUCATION for children with special needs shouldn’t be stopped, despite the challenges posed by Covid-19, according to a local councillor.
Councillor Ann Norton, who is concerned about the delay in rolling out July Provision, said this grant should have been allocated at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic last March to give parents the option of availing of one-to-one tuition for their child.
She proposed young student teachers who can’t get work experience could have been tasked with providing home tuition with all the necessary safeguards such as using personal protective equipment and the teacher conducting the work in one room with the child and without any contact with other people.
“Children with special needs can’t sit around day after day after day. They need education and activities.
“Parents still don’t know if July Provision is going ahead. There is no reason why a parent couldn’t get a teacher in for a few hours before children go back to school,” she said.
“Children with special needs need additional educational supports before they back to school. If a child goes into a hospital for a medical procedure, a person can apply for home tuition. Why hasn’t the government asked the Department of Education to put this in place?
“People that are making decisions for children with special needs haven’t a clue what it is like to have a child with a disability in a house on a 24-hour basis,” she added.
Ennis Voices for Autism secretary, Gearoid Mannion said the parents’ support group is extremely concerned with the delay in providing clarity about when and whether the annual July Provision Scheme will proceed later this year.
The group believes it is absolutely vital that JPS proceeds in August and believes new flexibility is added to allow children with special needs to continue this programme in September, which could be adapted to help them re-integrate into the educational system.
Children with ASD have suffered due to increased anxiety as a result of staying at home an inordinate period since the national school closures.
“Some children have regressed in terms of social skills and really miss their learning and developmental opportunities. Parents are worried about their ability to resume without proper additional supports.
“EVA is calling for the extension of what is usually the JPS into the month of August and September, if this is deemed necessary in view of the exceptional circumstances caused by the pandemic.
“It is vital to ensure an adequate number of professionals are willing and able to deliver this programme.
“Greater flexibility is needed in how support might be provided depending on public health advice and the needs of individual young people.
“There is a need to ensure that any summer supports were aligned with strategies to support a young person returning to school in September, particularly for those transitioning from one phase of their education to another,” he said.
He proposed there is a need to ensure any programme is inclusive of young people not regularly attending school prior to COVID-19, or who may not return to school in September for reasons such as complex medical needs, and contingency plans to support students who may experience difficulties in returning to school owing to lapse of time.
If primary and secondary schools return on a staggered or phased basis, the group believes children with ASD and special needs should be prioritised when it comes to selecting what pupils can stay in the classroom/special needs unit and those who may be asked to do their study/classwork at home.
The Department of Education confirmed it is planning for a summer provision type programme for children with complex needs this year as soon as it is safe to do so and in accordance with public health advice.
“Planning is underway and consultations with stakeholders have commenced. The willingness of schools, teachers and SNAs to participate are key to the provision of a summer education programme.
“An announcement will be made as soon as possible,” said a department spokesman.