Sinn Féin spokesperson on Disability and Carers, Pauline Tully TD, has criticised the lack of forethought shown by the Minister for Education and her Department over whether schools needed to close and, in this scenario, how they would prioritise children with additional educational needs.
The Cavan-Monaghan TD said:
“There should always have been a plan B in place if schools needed to close, especially in terms of children with additional needs.
“The Minister had nine months to plan for and organise this.
“Minister Foley should have spent this time in negotiation with the unions representing Special Education Teachers, Special Needs Assistants and other school staff as they have very reasonable concerns about Covid-19.
“Instead, we had half-baked plans cobbled together over the course of 24 hours, which collapsed just as quickly.
“When I challenged the Minister on this in the Dáil, she claimed that she had an agreement in place that would see children with additional needs returning to school this week.
“However, since this announcement, it has been reported that there remain issues outstanding that could prevent a return for these children and that is of serious concern.
“The chaos that ensued two weeks ago happened because the government tried to bounce stakeholders, trying to decide policy by press release rather than engage in proper dialogue.
“I am concerned that the same mistakes are being made again and that press releases are substituting discussion and agreement.
“The Minister needs to stop taking stakeholders for granted.
“I have been contacted by many families who are deeply upset and worried as this has left them in deep confusion as to when their children will be able to return to school.
“We all know how badly children with additional needs were affected last year with many of them receiving little or no support for the three months of school closure.
“Children experienced academic, social and emotional regression and took weeks to settle back to school in September.
“Everyone agrees on the need to see special education return as soon as possible and in a manner that is safe.
“The real concerns of staff need to heard and allayed, and agreement needs to be found so that children with additional needs can get back to school and there is not a repeat of the disaster from last year’s schools’ closures.”