‘Make vaccine a priority for special needs teachers’ – GP

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A GP, who is mother to a child with severe autism, has called for special needs teachers to be given priority for Covid-19 vaccination to allow them provide their essential service.

Dr Niamh O’ Brien , a GP in Mervue health centre in Galway, said she was devastated to hear that special schools will not reopen, leaving her youngest daughter Annie (6), who is autistic and non-verbal, without the vital support.

The mother-of-three expressed serious concern and said: “Special schools are an essential service with a duty of care to their pupils. I am an essential worker and it is my duty to work and serve my patients during the pandemic.

“Children with special needs cannot learn remotely. It is detrimental to them and their families to deprive them of education and therapies.”

One of her daughters, Lucy, who has a severe brittle bone disease, uses a wheelchair and will also be at home.

The family is concerned that Lucy is at risk of injury due to Annie’s challenging behaviours through no fault of her own.

“Many special schools including Abalta in Parkmore, which Annie attends, were ready and willing to re-open from today.”

She said making special needs teachers a priority should be looked at as one way of re-opening.

They are not high in numbers and the schools are small so it would be manageable to vaccinate them.

“I appreciate there is a measure of risk but there is risk everywhere you go. There is risk when you go into the shops.”

Teachers have been wearing face masks and the children are very low risk.

“They are going into a class of around five children. They do not mingle with anyone except their own family and they do not like being touched.”

Dr O’Brien said the longer special needs children are at home and out of a routine, the more frustrated they become.

She said it was unfortunate that that the proposal to open special schools became entangled in the debate about bringing Leaving Cert students back to the classroom.

“Annie will not stay in front of a screen. School also provides respite for families. She gets the coat and takes the bus to school at 8.30am every morning with a smile on her face,” she said .

“She is not back until 4pm and is very happy.”

She added: “The staff of special schools who are willing and able to work should be allowed to do so, either at school or be allocated to support individual children.

“Sometimes it is important to say out loud what is the right thing to do. Special schools should remain open.”

It comes as three leading advocacy organisations representing chidlren with additional needs, Down Syndrome Ireland, Inclusion Ireland and AsIAm, will meet with Education Minister Norma Foley today to discuss the closure of special schools, special classes, and the lack of support being made available to students with special educational needs in mainstream classes.

Irish Independent

Source: Irish News