Four leading advocacy organisations, AsIAm, Down Syndrome Ireland, Family Carers Ireland and Inclusion Ireland, have said that children with special educational needs, and their families and carers have been almost completely forgotten about in the conversations between stakeholders over the partial re-opening of schools.
The groups have appealed for the interests of vulnerable children to be prioritised, and for the Government and education stakeholders to re-engage to find agreement on a suite of education support options that includes the re-opening of schools for children with special educational needs.
On Friday evening, the Department of Education wrote to school principals, following engagement with unions and management bodies, to set out the agreed plan which is to see a partial re-opening of special schools and the full re-opening of special classes and supports for students with additional needs in mainstream primary school. Later in the evening, concerns were raised that the plan had yet to be confirmed and that there would be no agreement until a union meeting on Tuesday evening. Agreement has still not been reached.
Responding to the news, a spokesperson for the four organisations said:
"The manner in which this issue is being dealt with – with U-turns, mixed messages and false dawns, needs to stop. The Department and education stakeholders need to get this sorted once and for all. Our most vulnerable students – children with disabilities and special educational needs, their families and their carers have been almost completely forgotten about in this row.
“While a focus on the return to school should be a priority, in light of the continued uncertainty of a return to school for children with special education needs, urgent interim measures need to be put in place, whilst schools remain closed for these children. Direct virtual 1:1 access to the teacher, special education teacher or SNA, direct virtual access to therapy supports, in-home supports from a teacher or SNA will work for many of these pupils and in-school supports for those children who cannot engage in this manner.
"Last week on national radio we heard from many struggling families who are currently living in state of despair. Many parents contacted Liveline to express utter relief of children with disabilities returning to school and then the devastation of schools closing. Parents have found the emotional rollercoaster of school opening one day and not the next difficult to take. The discussions that have taken place between Government and educational stakeholders have relegated the voice and needs of the child throughout this process. The unfolding of events over the last two weeks has drained many of the families we represent. Families of children with SEN need practical solutions and a return to adequate learning for these children.
“We cannot lose sight of the significant harm being done to many students with special educational needs by the continued absence of an adequate level of education supports. We’re again calling for their interests to be put first, and for all parties to re-engage to bring this issue to a successful outcome.”
The above statement was issued on behalf of Down Syndrome Ireland, Family Carers Ireland, AsIAm and Inclusion Ireland.
The three groups have again written to the Government seeking further engagement on the issue - a copy of the letter is available here.