Tallaght-based Labour Party Cllr Dermot Looney has said that reports from St Joseph’s Special School in Balrothery that approximately 20 children with special needs were turned away from the school on its first day back yesterday are very worrying indeed. Parents were reportedly told on Thursday that the local Special Educational Needs Organiser (SENO) had decided that children previously earmarked for the school would now need to await a decision later in the month to determine whether or not they could attend St Joseph’s. It is now unclear as to the arrangements for these children to attend school in the meantime.
Looney, who works as a primary school teacher at another local school, has called on the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) to clarify the situation at the school as a matter of urgency. The NCSE tightened special schools criteria earlier this year and it is understood that these criteria are being used to justify yesterday’s announcement.
“The very existence of St Joseph’s was put under severe threat in February of this year due to Government cutbacks. At the time, the NCSE stated its intentions to cut 2/3 of the teaching and support staff, including a reduction from 16 to 6 teachers,” said Looney. “The school was also told it would lose 12 out of 17 Special Needs Assistants, although the cuts were somewhat alleviated on foot of a vocal campaign by parents and school staff.”
“In the case of yesterday's incident, it is unclear whether the local SENO had received, as reports are suggesting, the documentation on these children before the summer break, only to report today that children would have to wait until later this month before their situations are fully assessed. There is confusion over the designation of the special needs which apply to the school and it appears that the SENO has possibly taken a strict interpretation of “Mild General Learning Disabilities” which has discounted these children.”
“My understanding is that the school principal and staff, as well as parents, were until yesterday under the impression that the children were approved for attendance at the school. If this was the case it would appear that the Department of Education and Skills has failed in its basic duty of care to these pupils.”
“I understand the majority of the children concerned had been in mainstream schools last year and their parents had agreed to the huge step to move them to St Joseph’s. Uniforms were bought, transport arrangements were made and the children were all set for the year ahead when they were told the devastating news. The stories emerging from St Joseph’s of confused children in floods of tears coming out of the school are heartbreaking and everything must be done to ensure the situation for these vulnerable children is clarified immediately.”
Note: St Joseph's is a special school in Balrothery, Tallaght which caters for approximately 100 special needs children aged between 5 and 18. The school offers a range of FETAC programmes as well as the Junior and Leaving Certificate for older children. A discussion on the incident including eyewitness accounts, has been taking place on the Special Needs Parents Association Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/