By Michelle Devane, PA
Concerns have been raised over the fact that some special needs students will not be returning to school for almost another six weeks.
Sinn Féin’s Donnchadh O Laoghaire told the Education Committee that parents of children with special education needs “feel like they’ve been forgotten” by the Department of Education.
The Cork South Central TD added that special needs students did not appear to be a priority of the Government, despite the Education Department’s repeated assertions to the contrary.
Mr O Laoghaire said: “From what’s happening, for those children, they don’t seem to be a priority.
“There doesn’t seem to be any mention of a priority for children with additional needs in secondary schools.
“Do you think it will be right that a student in first year or second year with additional needs will have to wait until April 12, almost six weeks away, until they can get back into the classroom?
“Surely there must be some way to get them in school support in advance of that.”
Junior Minister for Special Education Josepha Madigan said there are about 8,500 special educational needs (SEN) students in primary school and that about half of those, or 4,000, were back in their classrooms.
Special needs schools, having returned on a limited basis two weeks ago, returned to full capacity on Monday.
But children with special needs who attend mainstream schools are returning to the classroom along with their peers.
Junior and senior infants, first and second class primary school pupils as well as Leaving Certificate students returned to school on Monday.
March 15 will see the return of the rest of primary school children – third to sixth class and fifth year Leaving Certificate students.
But secondary school students in first, second, third and fourth year will have to wait until April 12, after the Easter break, before they return to school.
“There are about 10,000 children with SEN who will return to the full class in due course with everyone else,” Ms Madigan said.
She added that it remains her “absolute intention for all children with SEN get back to school as soon as possible”.
— education.ie (@Education_Ire) February 24, 2021
Mr O Laoghaire said: “I understand the point you’re making but those children do have additional needs and remote learning is very challenging for them and I think it’s a pity that they’ve had to wait so long.”
Ms Madigan and Education Minister Norma Foley appeared before the Education Committee on Tuesday to provide an update on the reopening of schools and the 2021 State Examinations.
Monday saw about 320,000 students return to their classrooms for the first time this year, about 60,000 of whom are Leaving Cert students.
Ms Foley described their return to school as “hugely positive” for students, staff and families.
The Kerry TD told the committee that antigen testing in schools has not been recommended by public health officials at present but that if that advice changes then the Government would re-evaluate the situation.
She said an expert group under the guidance of Professor Mark Ferguson of Science Foundation Ireland was looking at antigen testing in a variety of settings and that report was due for completion later this month.
“Certainly if it is a recommendation of Nphet to utilise antigen testing then of course we will,” Ms Foley said.
“We have been very flexible and very resilient in terms of any measures that have been requested from a public health review that we would introduce into the schools and we have introduced at a variety of measures and certainly we will do that going forward.”