Sinn Féin spokesperson for Education Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD has welcomed the announcement from Minister for Education Norma Foley that special schools and classes will reopen from Thursday January 21st.
However, he has urged the Minister to re-engage with stakeholders to ensure all those with additional needs are included in the reopening.
Teachta Ó Laoghaire said:
“I welcome the announcement that special schools and classes will reopen from next Thursday. This result is in no small part thanks to the brilliant work of advocacy groups and families of children with special educational needs.
“It is regrettable that many of these families had to make the difficult decision to share their stories in the media to get the government to listen.
“This will be a huge relief for families who have been extremely frustrated and distressed from government u-turns of the past 10 days.
“Special schools are a lifeline for so many, and the ups and downs of the past week have been extremely distressing.
“If the Minister had done things right and put contingencies in place, it would never have got to level of chaos we saw last week.
“We were clear from the start that children with special educational needs needed to be priority number one.
“I am glad that the Minister listened to us, and has taken the decision to reopen special schools and special classes in primary schools.
“I am also pleased she has also listened to our calls for school meals to continue, and I hope that she will listen to our call for increased vaccine priority for those working in special education.
“But I regret that those with additional needs in units in post-primary schools have not been facilitated. I will be seeking more clarity on how those with additional needs in mainstream classes will be facilitated.
“I regret that more hasn’t been done on this point, and I am calling on the Minister to engage with the appropriate stakeholders to ensure all children with special educational needs, both primary and post-primary, can be included in this return to school.
“It is only right that children with special educational needs are given priority for any reopening of schools.
“We will examine the detail of today’s announcement, and will look to ensure that the appropriate safety measures have been put in place, including surgical masks for SNAs and all in close contact with students, regular serial testing for staff in special education, and improved contact tracing.
“It is also essential that the 40% cut in funding for PPE is immediately reversed, and that urgent action is taken on ensuring safety on school transport, including rethinking how to ensure distancing can take place and providing drivers and bus escorts with the appropriate PPE.
“I reiterate my call for the Minister to engage with the HSE and the National Immunisation Advisory Committee to see if school staff can be considered for Group 6 on the priority list for the Covid-19 vaccine.
“I look forward to learning more about the potential for this move, after the Tánaiste indicated earlier this week that school staff will be recognised in this regard.
“Sinn Féin want to be constructive, and we will continue to engage with the Minister and all stakeholders to ensure that the return to school is safe and sustainable.”