Child left without school place after broken promises

ONLY an 11th-hour reprieve will mean nine-year- old Casey Naughton starts school with every other primary pupil in the country next week, despite assurances from the Taoiseach that he would find a school place.

The native of Daingean, Co Offaly, has Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism, and was expelled from his local school last February.

His mum Lisa’s desperation brought them outside an official opening of new social welfare offices by local TD and Taoiseach Brian Cowen, along with former education minister Mary Hanafin a month ago.

She said Mr Cowen assured her something would be sorted out in time for Casey to begin school in September but time is running out, with no news yet from the Taoiseach or the Department of Education.

“Casey keeps asking where’s his new uniform and wanting to get a haircut for going back to school, but I’ve got to tell him he won’t be starting school,” Ms Naughton said.

Her son’s understanding of the situation is different, however, as he replies to her: “But Brian said he’d find me a school.”

His understanding of the Taoiseach’s position is that he is the King of Ireland, but not even somebody with that title has been able to end the Naughton family’s plight.

Since her meeting with the Taoiseach, Lisa has attended two appeal hearings against schools which refused to enrol Casey but the outcomes are not likely to be known for at least another two weeks. Another two appeals are due to be heard in a fortnight’s time but she is tired of hearing the same answers.

“Most schools are saying they don’t have the resources to cater for him, but that shouldn’t be a problem. Other schools have said they can’t enrol him because he doesn’t live in their catchment area,” said Ms Naughton.

She has been assured that any school which enrolls Casey will have a full-time Special Needs Assistant to help him, resource teaching hours, and an educational psychologist visiting twice

a week to train staff about Asperger’s and how to manage Casey’s behaviour.

Irish Autism Action has also supported his mother and is pledging the initial costs of a behavioural specialist to help a school.

“He’s just falling between the cracks like so many other autistic children. He doesn’t have a learning disability so he won’t be put in a special class but he’s too high functioning to be in an autism unit,” she said.

“The easiest solution for the Department of Education has been to offer him nine hours of home tuition a week but that’s not enough, every other child spends 30 hours a week at school. And how is he supposed to integrate if he’s at home all day every day?” she asked.

Ms Naughton previously had to borrow 4,500 because of delayed reimbursement from the department of the fees she paid for a home tutor since Casey was out of school in February.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education said no comment could be made on cases dealing with individual students.

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