Leon Farrell
Josepha Madigan

'Extremely disappointing': Minister criticises school for separating girl with Down Syndrome from class

The Minister of State for Special Education said that every school can access the resources necessary for inclusion

MINISTER OF STATE for Special Education and Inclusion, Josepha Madigan, has said that an instance of a young girl with Down Syndrome spending most of her school day in a foyer outside the classroom away from her classmates should never happen again.

A primary school was ordered by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) to pay €12,000 compensation to the girl for having her spend hours in the school foyer with her special needs assistant rather than in class.

Madigan, speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, welcomed the decision of the WRC and said that the school’s attempt to justify its treatment of the girl was unsatisfactory.

“I was extremely disappointed to hear the details of the case which were reported yesterday. It’s wholly discriminatory and really egregious behaviour, and there’s absolutely no excuse for these actions,” Madigan said.

“It’s very clear that this child was discriminated [against]. There was a blatant disregard for guidance and protocols, but also the spirit of what inclusivity means.”

The girl started in Junior Infants in September 2016 and was taken out of the school by her parents in April 2019 when she was in 1st class.

Her mother was not aware of her daughter’s exclusion until it was mentioned by the girl’s sister who was in the same class.

The WRC adjudicator said that the long period of time that the girl spent outside of a classroom away from her peers “reinforced the idea to the other children, and alarmingly for her sister that it might be normal to exclude children with special needs”.

The school argued that it provided the best educational service available to the girl in light of the resources that were available to it, which the minister said was an unjustifiable excuse.

“Down Syndrome Ireland themselves actually offered support through their Education Officer to the school, and it was refused, and I think that’s the very first time in school refused support like that. And they also didn’t engage in terms of support from the visiting teacher at the NCSE.”

Issues that the school may have been having in terms of resources are what the National Council for Special Education and the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) are there for, Madigan said.

“There’s a number of different supports, I don’t accept any school that says it doesn’t have the resources for inclusivity,” she added.

When the girl’s mother was asked why she brought the discrimination proceedings on behalf of her daughter, the mother said it was the last resort and that it was very upsetting to the family that her daughter was not included in the class environment.

Madigan stated that the NCSE had been given an extra €13 million in the budget, something that would help ensure “something like this never happens again”.

With additional reporting from Gordon Deegan