Legal battle to go on for pupils with Down syndrome

The Department of Education looks set to continue defending cases brought by families seeking guaranteed resource teaching hours for children with Down syndrome, who should now qualify for the support after a government decision this week.

Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan announced an interim measure on Tuesday under which those with Down syndrome who have a mild, general learning disability would no longer have to rely on their mainstream school’s general allocation of learning support teaching hours.

Instead, they will be given two-and-a-half hours a week of one-to-one resource teaching — a support currently available three hours a week for those with Down syndrome who have a moderate general learning disability.

The department agreed in the High Court last summer to grant resource teaching to two pupils affected by the policy in place since 2005, but a further hearing on the wider issue is due in May.

Cases have also been brought on behalf of at least three other primary pupils with Down syndrome.

Following Tuesday’s announcement, the Irish Examiner asked the department if it would now be withdrawing its defence in those matters, and what it had cost to date to defend them.

“The minister does not discuss or make statements on litigation which is ongoing. As these cases are all still before the courts, the department is precluded from discussing these matters, including the issue of costs,” it replied.

Solicitor Gareth Noble, who represents two families in the High Court case, said Tuesday’s announcement was a step in the right direction, and a very significant and welcome development in long-running efforts to enable children with Down syndrome to adequately access the curriculum in mainstream schools.

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