Sinn Féin spokesperson on Disability and Carers, Pauline Tully TD, has called on the government to ensure that children with additional learning needs are prioritised during the latest restrictions.
The Cavan-Monaghan TD said:
“The huge growth in COVID-19 cases in recent days is a massive concern.
“The protection of public health is absolutely paramount right now.
“In these circumstances the Government position that schools will reopen as normal on the 11th January is unrealistic, and in my view, very unlikely.
“I am, however, extremely concerned that any subsequent closing of schools further past the 11th of January would disproportionately impact children with additional learning needs.
“Children with additional learning needs should be prioritised.
“The supports provided in educational settings, for many young people with additional needs, such as special school or classes, access to additional teaching time and SNA support are the only real resources which they or their family receive from the State. It is absolutely vital they are retained.
“At the time of the introduction of the first restrictions in March 2020, these students not only lost these supports but also their structure, routine and opportunity to learn and retain key skills.
“Due to the poor broadband coverage throughout many parts of Ireland a large percentage of children with additional learning needs were also unable to engage in online learning.
“Children with additional learning needs and their families cannot be left in the same situation the government left them in during the first restrictions
“The Minister of State for Special Education and Inclusion and the Department should have been preparing appropriate provision since the end of the first restrictions for a re-occurrence of this very scenario.
“Numerous models have been implemented across EU member states that have allowed children with additional learning needs to continue their education, including providing hubs for students with the greatest level of need, protecting special schools and classes or providing alternative provision.
“I am calling on the government to ensure that children with additional learning needs and their families are prioritised during these restrictions and they are not once again forgotten and treated as an afterthought.
“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.”