The groups are responding to mixed messages from the Department and stakeholders on the return to school for children with additional needs next Thursday

Four leading advocacy organisations, AsIAm, Down Syndrome Ireland, Family Carers Ireland and Inclusion Ireland, have expressed deep concern at the lack of clarity being provided to children with additional needs, and the families, on the scheduled return to in-school support next Thursday.

On Friday evening, the Department of Education wrote to school principals, following engagement with unions and management bodies, to set out the agreed plan which is to see a partial re-opening of special schools and the full re-opening of special classes and supports for students with additional needs in mainstream primary school. Later in the evening, concerns were raised that the plan had yet to be confirmed and that there would be no agreement until a union meeting on Tuesday evening. This follows a delay in re-opening special education last week which saw a last minute u-turn

Responding to the news, a spokesperson for the four organisations said:

“We have received calls and emails from many deeply upset and worried families today. Children with additional needs, and their parents, went to bed last night confident that the week ahead would see a much needed return to the classroom and woke up this morning to mixed messages and deep confusion.

Our young people have suffered greatly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many students with additional needs are unable to learn remotely and have lost core skills in communication, personal care and social interaction which have a lifelong impact. At a time when families are struggling to cope with supporting their children on a 24/7 basis, often whilst juggling work and other care commitments, it is totally unacceptable for stakeholders to get their hopes up or to give mixed messages. Our children should be a central stakeholder in the return to school as they are the thousands of children with additional needs who will benefit from a re-opening. Children with additional needs rely on certainty and predictability. Many are deeply distressed already from last week’s u-turn and now the idea that they will be given just 24 hours notice before a possible reopening is cruel and disrespectful. Changing plans often leads to our children experiencing meltdowns or losing trust, at a time when our parents are already being asked to do more than they can be expected to manage. It is vital the Department and stakeholders resolve outstanding issues over the weekend, that schools re-open next Thursday and that the needs of our children are front and centre in the consideration of all stakeholders moving forward.”

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