‘Please help us’: Parents write to Minister on special needs school closures

Letters to Norma Foley reveal the depth of anger and dismay over children’s regression

Minister for Education Norma Foley. Photograph: Maxwells

Minister for Education Norma Foley. Photograph: Maxwells

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Dozens of parents of children with special needs wrote to Minister for Education Norma Foley in January expressing anger, frustration and bitter disappointment at the reversal of plans to reopen special schools.

Letters received by the Minister have been released under a Freedom of Information request.

The letters are heavily redacted, protecting the identities and omitting the specific conditions of the children, but they nonetheless reveal the huge sense of despair of parents, worried that their children will regress because of a lack of structure and routine.

“I want to voice my absolute shock, disappointment and fury over the events of last week regarding announcements made about special education,” wrote a mother of an eight-year-old boy.

“He is a boy with few words but the ones he does have he gets his message across along with a hair flip and a sassy attitude …

“I can’t begin to describe how he and many of his peers struggled during the last school closure. Those six months of hell broke us as a family. I watched my son’s mental and physical health deteriorate before my eyes.”

‘He can’t understand’

The mother described her horror on learning of the reversal of plans to reopen special schools. “I have been trying since Friday to explain school will now not open to my son and he is in an awful way. He can’t understand why the schedule has changed, he has no understanding of unions or engagement issues. He just keeps repeating on a loop now for three days hundreds of times over and over.

“This fiasco has made a liar out of me to my child and broke trust between us.”

Ms Foley is not the only one who is blamed, with some letter writers pointing fingers at the unions. Another parent writes about her daughter and the “huge regression in her physical, educational and social development” caused by the extended closure.

Another parent writes that her son is “already showing signs of regressing, not eating, aggressive behaviours, lack of sleep. As his mam and carer, I can’t express how difficult it is. He is seven years old. Please help us. This can only be done in our school setting.”

The letters were released to Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín under a Freedom of Information request.

Mr Tóibín said they exposed the stark reality for children with special needs and their families. “Children have regressed to a position where they are no longer able to complete ordinary daily tasks.”

He said with the gradual reopening of these places, there was a need to provide extra support to allow these children regain the goals they had attained before the prolonged lockdown.