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'It's a mixed day for families': Special-education classes in mainstream schools return from today

Lorraine Dempsey, interim CEO of Inclusion Ireland said that the part-time schedule was causing “difficulties around routine”.

Image: Shutterstock/Lopolo

STUDENTS WHO ATTEND special education classes in mainstream schools returned to school buildings today, as part of the Government’s plan for a phased reopening.

The Government has prioritised children with additional educational needs in the reopening of schools during February, March and April.

10 days ago, 124 special schools reopened at 50% capacity, with students attending for two or three instead of five days a week. 

Today, special classes in mainstream schools, including thousands of primary and post-primary schools, reopened for students – but not all students returned to classes. 

Although Lorraine Dempsey, interim CEO of Inclusion Ireland, welcomed the reopening, she said it was a “mixed day for families”. 

“Today is a very important and positive day for many children with additional educational needs returning to school, and there is a sense of relief among children and parents – but also a strong desire to get back to full provision as soon as possible.

“While many children are delighted to be back in school as part of the partial re-opening, for others the part-time schedule is causing further difficulties around routine.

“We’re also very aware today of thousands of children with additional needs who attend mainstream classes, and their families, are looking on enviously. The majority of these children remain unable to access appropriate educational supports.”

Some parents have raised concerns about the educational provisions for their children in the reopening plan – such as not being able to accept teachers attending their homes to teach their child due to fears around Covid-19.

“It is a mixed day for families,” Dempsey said. “There is progress for some, and others remain locked out of education. We need to see continued progress. Attention seems to have turned to the full re-opening of schools, despite previous commitments that students with additional needs would be prioritised.

“It’s not clear where they fall on the Government’s agenda now, and we need urgent clarity on that,” she said.

There are 1,231 special classes at primary level catering for 7,520 students. They are supported by 3,819 teachers and SNAs.

There are 515 special classes at post primary catering for 2,808 students. They are supported by 1,739 teachers and SNAs.

The government’s plan

The Cabinet sub-committee on Covid-19 is meeting this evening to discuss the Government’s reopening plan over the next month, which will be revealed tomorrow. 

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It’s been well-flagged that nothing other than schools will be reopened during the month of March; Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman has said that junior and senior infants, and students in first and second class would return to school first.

Leaving Cert students would also be prioritised in the return to school. 

The two-week Easter school break begins from 29 March, which has prompted some calls from parents to shorten this break in order to make up for time in school that students have missed out on. 

The rest of the Government’s reopening plan greatly depends on the level of transmission there is when schools reopen.

If it rises to a level that health experts decide is too risky to reopen other parts of society, such as shops or by allowing people to meet, there may be no further easing of restrictions until significant parts of the population are vaccinated. 

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