THE parent of a child with Down syndrome has criticised the Government for what she described as sending out “mixed messages” after plans to reopen special schools from today were abandoned.
Jacqui Connolly’s daughter, Katie, attends Scoil Éanna in Montenotte, which was among those expected to reopen this week.
The mum of one said the 12-year-old would have been unable to return due to her underlying conditions, including asthma and arthritis.
However, she said she felt that the Government is sending out conflicting messages and putting pressure on the families of children with special needs.
“The Government has been humming and hawing over this for so long now,” Ms Connolly said. “Parents of children with special needs are being led up the garden path and right back down again. The Taoiseach is advising people to stay home, while the Minister for Education insists that schools are safe environments. Unions are being blamed and that’s not fair. This isn’t the fault of SNAs or teachers.
“Parents of children without special needs have the same worries as us when it comes to Covid. They don’t want their children to get sick or pass on the virus. Ironically, it was the most medically vulnerable children in Ireland who were being sent back first.”
Ms Connolly said the focus needs to be transferred to services like occupational therapy.
“Personally, I didn’t want it to happen because my daughter has an underlying condition that puts her seriously at risk. The numbers are too high. What they should be talking about is opening occupational therapy and physiotherapy, even if this is just operated through Zoom. However, all these have been cut off, leaving families in difficult positions.”
She acknowledged that the decision to delay reopening schools will disappoint many families too.
“There are parents out there whose children’s needs are much more complex than Katie’s. Having to homeschool in these circumstances is much more difficult for them. All children with special needs are not the same. The same goes for other children.”
Meanwhile, Carol McGinty, whose 13-year-old son Darragh attends Scoil Aislinn in Ballintemple, said the decision to delay special school reopenings left her relieved.
“I feel like, if I was sending Darragh back, it would have been like sending a lamb to the slaughter,” the Carrigaline woman said. “I didn’t want to put him in danger.
“I wouldn’t expect them to send any child back when the virus is still affecting so many people. Darragh is non-verbal, so if he’s sick he can’t tell us. Kids like Darragh are unable to manage their own personal hygiene and there are still teachers who have vulnerable family members who will need to be protected.”
She praised her son’s school for helping them cope through lockdown.
“Being at home has been hard. Darragh has something called Pica, a condition that means he will eat non-food items, so I have to watch him very carefully. He also lacks a sense of danger, so the doors of rooms like the kitchen have to be locked to avoid him accessing anything dangerous.
“Scoil Aislinn has been astounding. Darragh loved going to school before. He knew he was going when he saw his uniform out. Now, we have to hide it to avoid any reminders.”
Ms McGinty said she understands how the U-turn on the decision may seriously impact other families.
“I want to reiterate that this is just my personal opinion. A lot of families are in extremely difficult positions, where their child is at risk of regressing. I understand that this is extremely difficult for them and respect that they would prefer to see their child return to school early to prevent this from happening.”