The Oireachtas Committee on Education and Science is hearing submissions on the Education for Persons with Disabilities Bill this week.
The bill was redrafted and published by Education Minister Noel Dempsey in July after an original version published last year was withdrawn. The bill is due to be enacted later this year.
The legislation recognises the equal right of children with disabilities to a full education and does not prevent parents from going to the courts in pursuit of a proper education for their children.
It sets out plans to co-ordinate the provision of education and support for people with varying levels of disability. This is to be overseen by a National Council for Special Education, currently being staffed with special needs organisers to determine resources on a regional and local basis.
However, the bill outlines that resources are to be determined by his own department and the Department of Finance, depending on available funding.
But Irish Progressive Association for Autism chairman Kieran Kennedy asked: “The number of school-aged children with autism is going to treble to around 1,000 in the Southern Health Board area alone in five years, what are we going to do when they all need resources and staff?”
The Irish Primary Principals Network fear their members’ heavy workload will be heightened and said many aspects of the bill are aspirational as it is unclear when the necessary organisational staff will be in place.
Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland general secretary Charlie Lennon said the bill pays insufficient attention to the availability of specialised services in schools to allow them to fulfil their legal obligations.
He said students are already waiting up to two years for assessment of their needs and teachers also need professional training to help them work effectively with students with disabilities.
The Irish National Teachers Organisation expressed concern to the Committee that the bill’s definition of disability could be used to exclude people with dyslexia or those suffering from conditions which may have resulted in disturbed behaviour.
The union called for the definition to be changed to one used in recent equal status laws.
The Teachers Union of Ireland said it would be unacceptable that schools would have to fund additional resources if they are not provided to the relevant agencies.
Fine Gael committee member David Stanton TD said the bill is one of the most complex to come before the Oireachtas in recent years.