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Mother blasts lack of apology after daughter with spina bifida treated by school staff wearing face masks

Employees wore face masks while dealing with the girl, despite her not having a contagious disease.

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THE MOTHER OF a young girl living with spina bifida has slammed the girl’s former school for not apologising to her child after successfully taking an action against the institution at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC).

The mother initially took the case on the basis that her child, who was aged 15 at the time of the incidents discussed, had been discriminated against on grounds of disability, and that the school had failed to have a written ‘intimate care policy’ in place.

Speaking to in the wake of the commission’s decision, which saw the school ordered to pay her daughter €3,000 in recompense for the adverse finding, the woman professed herself “delighted” at the result, but added her unhappiness at the fact the school had not officially apologised.

“We are… very disappointed the school have yet to apologise to our daughter, something we specifically requested at the hearing,” she added.

The young girl in question is a full-time wheelchair user, living with spina bifida and hydrocephalus scoliosis.

Spina bifida is a birth defect which sees a person affected by an incomplete closing of the backbone and membranes around the spinal cord.

The girl’s mother had submitted that, when inserting a catheter for her daughter, school staff had taken to wearing facemasks during the procedure.

Low risk

She contended that this is not necessary as such a procedure is low risk, and that her daughter had been ‘singled out… in an ill-informed and discriminatory way’.

She further contended that the wearing of facemasks was of an ‘on off nature’ which led to a ‘variety of reasons’ being offered as to why they were worn.

An education officer with Spina Bifida Hydrocephalus Ireland (SBHI) told the WRC hearing that the issue of facemasks being worn was the first incidence of such practice she had seen with regard to catheterisation in over 100 school visits across Ireland.

She added that the young girl appeared “upset and traumatised” by the experience.

The school, in stating its case, denied that wearing facemasks during catheterisation was inappropriate or unreasonable, adding that an outbreak of flu in the school at Christmas 2016 and that the Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) involved had requested to wear the masks as protection against the virus.

The WRC adjudicating officer in charge of the case concluded that the woman taking the case on behalf of her daughter had established a prima facie case of discrimination on grounds of disability, with the school ordered to pay €3,000 by way of recompense.

In publishing the decision, the commission anonymised all parties to the dispute, as is common practice with the majority of WRC rulings.

‘No apology’

Speaking in light of that decision, the mother said expressed her delight at the outcome, which came at the end of a “difficult time for our daughter”.

“Thankfully she is now in a different school, being supported and educated in a much better environment,” she said.

We took this case to call out the behaviour involved and we are hopeful that this ruling will help in some way to ensure that children, with similar special needs, are treated in our schools with the dignity and respect they deserve.

Responding to the decision, a spokesperson for SBHI said the organisation ‘welcomes’ the ruling, adding that the school’s policy was ‘ill-conceived and discriminatory’.

“We welcome the findings of the Workplace Relations Commission and hope that this does not occur again in the future for any of our members with spina bifida and/or hydrocephalus,” they said.

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