Families of special needs pupils ‘deeply upset and worried’ by confusion over school re-opening

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Families of children with special needs are “deeply upset and worried” by the confusion over plans for the partial re-opening of schools from next Thursday.

dvocacy organisations said children with additional needs, and their parents, “went to bed last night confident that the week ahead would see a much needed return to the classroom and woke up this morning to mixed messages and deep confusion.”.

AsIAm, Down Syndrome Ireland, Family Carers Ireland and Inclusion Ireland said “uncertainty about school re-opening is cruel and detrimental.”

They were commenting after the union representing special needs assistants (SNAs) said talks on partial re-opening had not concluded, and that a number of issues remained to be resolved.

The Department of Education last night issued detailed guidance to schools around re-opening arrangements on which education unions had signed off.

It was widely understood that the release of the guidance meant the way had been cleared for a phased re-opening from next Thursday January 21.

The letter stated that its purpose was “to set out in further detail the framework under which it is intended in-school teaching and learning will take place in special schools, special classes in mainstream primary schools, and for pupils with special educational needs who attend mainstream classes in primary school commencing Thursday 21st January.”

But Fórsa, which represents the SNAs, subsequently issued a statement saying that a number of issues that remained to be resolved included the safety of SNAs at high risk of Covid infection, and childcare arrangements.

However, Fórsa National Secretary Andy Pike told indepedendent.ie that problems were ‘not insurmountable’ and he hoped resolution would be found by Tuesday evening.

Mr Pike said they had told the Department yesterday that certain matters still needed to be ironed out, but that “to be fair to the department, the guidance that went to principals contains provisions for these matters to be addressed and for the situation to change and , mentions further communications and FAQs.”

The guidance refers to a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document which is being finalised and which, it states, would continue to be updated.

Special education staff will have an opportunity to ask public health experts questions at a webinar being hosted on Monday and it is believed that thousands have already registered.

The seminar will be attended by Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Colette Bonner, HSE Assistant . National Director, Public Health, Dr Kevin Kelleher and Public Health consultant Dr Abigail Collins.

A spokesperson for Education Minister Norma Foley said they were committed to continuing to engage with all stakeholders with the shared aim of partial re-opening on Thursday. The spokesperson said while the guidance had been agreed, Thursday was a “shared aim”.

Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) general secretary John Boyle said the union continues to engage with relevant stakeholders, in relation to the Department’s plans for the limited reopening of special education next week and had highlighted specific queries with Department officials.

He said while they had secured clarity for members on a number of issues, the INTO Central Executive Committee awaited the updated public health advice to be provided in a webinar for special education staff on Monday.

Online Editors

Source: Irish News