‘A cloud has been lifted’-that was the immediate reaction from one parent to the news that there will be an expansion of special school provision in Cork.
The investment includes a new special school in Carrigaline with 48 places, and a change to the designation of St Mary’s Special School, Rochestown to also meet the needs of children with a dual diagnosis of a learning disability and autism, with 12 new school places becoming available for September 2021.
The Taoiseach Micheál Martin welcomed the news saying: “The provision of places in special education has been an issue in Cork for a number of years. I’m determined to see that every child with special education needs gets an appropriate place when they require a place. I also want to ensure that families do not have to go through the stress of not knowing if their child has a place the following year.
Cork TD and Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Special Education Padraig O’Sullivan said the development was "a great relief" for the families. "It is a huge weight off their shoulders.”
He added: “We can’t allow what has occurred in the last few years to happen again in terms of the system being clogged up."
Sinn Féin’s Spokesperson on Education and Skills Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire described the announcement as a first step in tackling the special education crisis in Cork.
Deputy Ó Laoghaire said: “This announcement is long overdue. I also welcome the creation of additional places in an existing school. The priority must be children who need a school place in September,” he added.
Senator Jerry Buttimer said the project must be ‘delivered on immediately’.
“Special Educational Needs Organisers and the Department of Education must work closely with the families to ensure they can access these new places. Additional places must be delivered as early as possible for September to end the anxiety. A monitoring group of stakeholders must be established.”
School places have yet to be offered to prospective families, but it is believed that the 23 Cork families who currently have no school place for the start of the new school year will be prioritised.
Mary Hickey, whose son Andy is currently in a special school setting that caters for children up to the age of 12, is among a number of parents waiting to find out if her child will have a school place in September.
She described today's news as a ‘step in the right direction’.
“It has been a nightmare process. No parent should have to worry about the basic educational rights of their children.”
Mary’s son Andy has a dual diagnosis of autism and an intellectual disability.
She said having a routine will give him a ‘renewed sense of purpose’.
“It will give him a sense of purpose getting up and going to school every day. Routine is great for him. It is more than education for Andy. Life skills are huge,” she said.
Claire Madden whose daughter Abbey has a dual diagnosis of autism and an intellectual disability finds herself in a similar situation to the Hickey family.
Ms Madden said her family has experienced a lot of ‘sleepless nights’.
Aisling Henebry is also facing a similar situation with her daughter Kayla, who also has a dual diagnosis of autism and an intellectual disability.
She hopes the news is not a ‘publicity stunt’.
“It is good news. I hope they follow through and all the kids will have places come September. If Kayla doesn’t have that she would just regress into herself,” she said.