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Ennis Voices for Autism secretary, Gearoid Mannion, has expressed concern about the impact of school closures on children with special needs.

Plans unveiled for re-opening of special schools

Plans have been unveiled for the re-opening of schools for children with special needs in Clare next Thursday much to the relief of local parents who have struggled to cope with the blanket school closure.

 

CLARE parents of children with special needs are hoping that Education Minister Normal Foley delivers on her promise of a phased re-opening of special schools next Thursday.

In a letter sent to school principals on Friday, the Department of Education stated pupils in special schools will attend on alternate days, while pupils in specials classes in mainstream primary schools will attend every day.

The department also outlined pupils with significant additional needs in mainstream classes in primary schools will have access to in-school teaching and learning.

“All staff, including all teachers and special needs assistants, who work in special schools should return to work , other than in circumstances provided for by the occupational health scheme, or whose staff are on approved leave.

Concern has been expressed by Ennis Voices for Autism earlier this week that children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have been very badly affected by the closure of special schools for children with special needs.

Minister for Education Norma Foley TD and Minister of State for Special Education and Inclusion Josepha Madigan TD met with primary and special education stakeholders in a positive engagement on Thursday.

Minister Foley stated all parties are working together towards a phased return for children in special schools and a return to school for those in special classes in primary schools and children with significant additional needs in mainstream primary classes, beginning on Thursday, January 21

“All parties share my objective to work together so that children with special educational needs, who find it very hard to engage with remote or online learning receive some face to face education in schools before a fuller reopening is possible.

“We are working together towards a phased return for children in special schools and a return to school for those in special classes in primary schools and children with significant additional needs in mainstream classes beginning on January 21,” she said.

Ennis Voices for Autism secretary, Gearoid Mannion said parents of children with special needs were devastated their children were not at school, which in line with public health advice and government policy.

Mr Mannion stressed it is vital issues concerning the re-opening of schools are resolved as quickly as possible.

“It isn’t just about education, it is about the routine and social interaction children get in special schools. These schools provide occupational therapy, speech therapy and many of them provide essential clinical needs for children.

“It is bigger than just the education children are receiving. They are a vulnerable group and need to be taken care of. It is not good enough because after all the months a plan should be in place.

He said his two children attend Ábalta Special School in Galway, which has very small class numbers, and noted special schools want to remain open, but this hasn’t been facilitated.

He recalled staff in special schools have used Personal Protective Equipment PPE and other infection control measures for months and should be allowed continue.

“It is very difficult for parents and families, as some children were told they were going back to school and then had to be told this wasn’t happening.

“The main issues are lack of sleep and challenging behaviour. You can’t spend much time outdoors either with the bad weather. Opportunities for exercise is quite limited.

“It will continue to be a very challenging time and a lot of parents are very stressed out,” he explained.

Lourda Doyle, Broadford, said the principal of Broadford and Kilbane National School wanted to re-open the school and felt this could be done safely for both children and staff, but couldn’t do so because of the blanket school closure.

Ennis Voices for Autism (EVA) has supported a petition being circulated by Asiam, which has called on all Dáil deputies to raise this very important issue with the Government, and with Minister for Education Norma Foley, Minister of State for Disabilities Anne Rabbitte, and Minister of State for Special Education and Inclusion, Josepha Madigan, to achieve a speedy resolution.

It notes school closures impact on these children severely.

“They have lost ground, lost skills of daily living and there are behaviour issues to contend with. In the last lock-down home education simply did not work. It takes the skills of a very experienced teacher to work with a child who requires such supports. In addition, HSE therapy services have been non-existent since March.”

A group of parents in Galway have sought clarification about the legal rights of their children attending special education classes to receive an education.

It has also sought clarification about the status of teachers and special needs assistants who want to resume teaching and are in completely disagreement with the directive given by unions on this issue.

Group spokesperson, Miriam Jennings said a person in the Ombudsman office had assured her this issue is being prioritised at the moment.

 

Dan Danaher

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