Representatives seek meeting with Minister over potential further school closures

Three leading organisations representing people with disabilities and children with additional educational needs have said a repeat of the first lockdown, where children with disabilities largely saw a complete removal of support services in education and at home, would be intolerable.

Down Syndrome Ireland, AsIAm, and Inclusion Ireland have written to the Minister of State for Special Education and Inclusion Josepha Madigan TD seeking an urgent meeting over the potential further closure of schools due to the surge in Covid-19 numbers in recent days.

Speaking today, Barry Sheridan, CEO of Down Syndrome Ireland,  said: “The huge growth in COVID-19 cases in recent days is a massive concern, and, of course, the protection of public health is absolutely paramount right now, but we are extremely concerned at the increasing speculation that schools will be closed further past the 11th of January. The Government must consider the impact that further closures will have on some of the most vulnerable children in the State – children with additional learning needs and prioritise them too. For many young people with additional needs, the supports provided in educational settings such as special school or classes, access to additional teaching time and SNA support are the only tangible resources which they or their family receive from the State. It is absolutely vital they are retained, if at all possible.”

Adam Harris, CEO of AsIAm, added: “In March 2020, these students not only lost these supports but also their structure, routine and opportunity to learn and retain key skills. At the same time at this occurred, vital clinical and therapeutic supports were diverted elsewhere. A lengthy period in which families had little or no support followed and whilst it is too early to fully assess the negative developmental impacts this will undoubtedly have; even initial indicators are most concerning. In DCU’s government-funded T-Res Study, 61% of children with additional needs were reported to have lost key abilities and skills during this period including self-regulation, academics and motivation. 68% of those surveyed by AsIAm prior to school re-opening reported that their child had experienced increased meltdowns or overloads at home during the period. 89% of families surveyed by Inclusion Ireland found that their child “missed school quite a lot”. A large percentage of our communities are unable to engage in online learning owing to cognitive differences.”

Enda Egan, CEO of Inclusion Ireland, concluded: “Whilst a period of no-school support was accepted by families in 2020 it is not a sustainable scenario to repeat and is likely to cause untold suffering to our communities. Our organisations have asked the Department, on numerous occasions, to prepare appropriate provision were such a scenario to re-occur. There are numerous models, implemented across EU member states, including providing “hubs” for students with the greatest level of need, protecting special schools and classes or providing alternative provision. We are seeking an urgent meeting with the Minister of State for Special Education and Inclusion Josepha Madigan TD to discuss these matters as a priority.”

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