January 12, 2021
Talks to resume special education provision must intensify – Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD has today written to the Minister for Education urging that she reconvene negotiations immediately with workers representatives to ensure the return of in-school supports for children with special educational needs as soon as possible.

Teachta Ó Laoghaire said

“I have spoken to many families of children with special educational needs who are understandably incredibly frustrated at this time. They were hopeful given the Minister for Education’s promises last week that their children were to be supported during this difficult time and have been left extremely disappointed when that did not happen.

“Unfortunately, any plan that didn’t include the whole school community, staff and families in the discussion was not going to work. It is frustrating for these families that the government had the time to put in place a Plan B for special education and did not do so, which meant a plan was cobbled together over the course of 48 hours.

“Children with additional needs are the cohort that missed out the most when schools closed last Spring and were among the greatest victims of the last lockdown. It is for that reason that last Monday I urged the Minister to ensure that children with special educational needs should be the first back to school, provided it was safe to do so.

“I do understand however that staff in special education had safety concerns that they felt weren’t being listened to. School staff were understandably worried that without investment by the Minister in PPE and safety measures they may fall ill to Covid-19.

“Families of children with special educational needs are frustrated, however, as these concerns were entirely foreseeable. It is frustrating, that the government did not plan for these additional safety measures, given the huge impact that last week’s U-turn is now having on so many families.

“The focus now must be on ensuring that engagement with workers representatives happens urgently. In my view, there is a desire among those working in special education to return to school provided that this can be done safely.

“I have again written to the Minister today urging her to not take a step back from this and to ensure the necessary investment in PPE and safety measures so that staff and families can be confident when they return to school that it is a safe place to be and that children with special educational needs can continue to receive in-school support as soon as possible.

“I have also urged the Minister today 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 given the importance of their role. Staff urgently need clarity on when they will receive the vaccine and the least they deserve is the Department of Education arguing their case for greater priority.

“These issues are hugely important and above politics. Sinn Féin will continue to be constructive, and to work with the Minister to ensure that children with additional needs can return to school as soon as possible, provided that it can be done safely.”

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