Special education

 

Sir, – In March 2020, when the first lockdown arrived, many children with special needs had their therapists redeployed to Covid work by the HSE. Schools closed, and while traditional schools were able to provide online learning, the reality is that online learning is simply not an option for many children with special needs. Further lockdowns were always likely, which made it essential that plans were put in place to address these children’s needs. Responsibility for this does not reside with school principles, teachers or special needs assistants (SNAs). It is the responsibility of the Department of Education to provide a safe working environment for staff.

The recently hastily announced last-minute decision was announced without any plan or idea as to how it would be implemented on the ground. School principals were left scrambling to pull together plans for a return to school a few days later. This was not a plan; it was a PR stunt the only purpose of which was to bounce schools into providing services for fear of upsetting parents. The Department of Education attempted to use the concern these teachers and SNAs have for our children to emotionally blackmail them into providing services in potentially unsafe environment.

This Government talks about protecting the vulnerable but the facts show that twice in the space of 12 months it has put the boot into our most vulnerable children. Senior officials in the Department of Education in particular have serious questions to answer in regard to the non-existent planning here. As a minimum, contingency plans should have been put in place offering some additional home support to parents of children with special needs.

As usual, it will be left to parents to pick up the pieces while the highly paid senior managers in the Department of Education who failed our children are not affected in the slightest. It is their job to ensure all children are being educated; currently they are failing and our children are the ones who are paying the price. When taken with the HSE’s redeployment of therapists, it’s not hard to form the impression that far from protecting the vulnerable, our State agencies are targeting them.

Parents of Irish children with special needs are sick of having to take the State to court to ensure services for their children.

Services, not PR stunts, are needed, and senior officials in the Department of Health and the Department of Education need to start delivering. If they are incapable of doing so they should be removed. – Yours, etc,

RUARY MARTIN,

Sandyford,

Dublin 18.

Sir, – Special education – the clue is in the name. Every pupil attending a special schools and special class is unique.

What pupils of special school and classes have in common is they best engage with, and benefit from, learning in classes of reduced size, where the teacher to pupil ratio is low and where teachers are supported by special needs assistants that understand and appreciate the individual strengths and challenges each pupil faces.

The predictable routine of the school day, the opportunity to learn at a pace adapted to their needs, the chance to engage with and develop peer relationships in a supportive environment, and the chance to focus on life skills have value beyond words. And many pupils also benefit still from clinical supports on site in schools,albeit those supports continue to be under threat.

Remote learning does not suit this cohort of pupils whose loss of skills has been shocking during the lockdowns to date.

Who could fail to be moved by the parents (News, January 9th) as they described the impact on their children and families as special schools and classes failed to reopen in January.

The reality is parents of children with additional needs have long been expected to fill service gaps as their children languish on waiting lists for speech and language therapy, psychology, occupational therapy, psychiatry and medical services. Now it seems they are also expected to be teachers.

So where to from here?

Those staffing special needs classes and schools face the same fear and anxiety as everyone. Many have children out of school, have no childcare arrangements and also find themselves as home-schoolers.

Staff of special schools and special classes need to be assured they will be prioritised in terms of testing and tracing during the pandemic.

To return to school staff need to be know there is appropriate childcare for their children

Staff of special schools and special classes need to be afforded direct, clear and timely communication from the Minister for Education and Minister of State for Special Education of the plans to reopen special schools and special classes.

And when our children with additional needs return to school, as they did before, this time they need to be afforded the same safety and protection as the general public – in particular they should no longer be expected to travel on school buses, some of which were allowed operate at an occupancy that would not be allowed on public transport. – Yours, etc,

MARIA DUNNE,

Dublin 4.

Sir, – The position of the Government last week regarding special education was the “numbers are small”, so the risk to wider society is not great. If so small, surely the management of a vaccine programme and testing regime for teachers and students in this cohort would be a simple and straightforward process to execute. An initial vaccine along with testing of all staff and students from special needs settings on a Friday, so those with a negative result could proceed to school on a Monday, would surely address the concerns of all and keep everybody safe. And after the second vaccination, there would be no need to test. Very small numbers and a simple and fair solution that is respectful of all.– Yours, etc,

BRIAN COSTELLO,

Ogonnolloe,

Co Clare.