Appeal to ombudsman over Zoe’s support cuts

A COMPLAINT is to be made to the Ombudsman for Children about the reduction of support services for a seven-year-old Down Syndrome schoolgirl.

Annabelle and Andrew Boyle say they will take the case of their daughter, Zoe, to the Ombudsman Emily Logan after the National Council for Special Education refused to reinstate the five hours per day school support provided by the child’s Special Needs Assistant (SNA).

On September 1, the National Council for Special Education cut the SNA’s role to just one hour a day.

Archbishop Dermot Clifford sent an appeal to the National Council for Special Education asking for a sympathetic review of the case.

In addition, Dr Charl Pretorious, who is a clinical psychologist at St Joseph’s Foundation in Charleville, said Zoe was benefiting hugely from one-to-one support and to remove the five-hour day SNA schedule was very detrimental.

Local people were so angered by the cuts that they held two protests outside Zoe’s rural school in Araglin, Co Cork.

However, Annabelle Boyle confirmed yesterday the review had decided that the SNA should work with Zoe just two hours per day.

“We are very disappointed with this decision and we will be putting in another appeal,” Annabelle said.

She said that the National Council for Special Education had decided the SNA would provide the extra hour to assist Zoe with her “toileting needs”.

“This is not just about her toileting needs, it’s about her education,” Annabelle said.

She is to meet with teachers at Araglin National School on Monday to further discuss the matter.

In the meantime, the couple plan to send a petition to Minister for Education Mary Coughlan in the hope she may intervene.

“We have collected more than 5,000 signatures so far in support of having Zoe’s SNA hours fully reinstated.

“We got 3,000 signatures from a Facebook online petition and more than 2,000 from another petition we took up in Mitchelstown,” Annabelle said.

Zoe’s parents have said they would have been willing to accept a gradual reduction in SNA hours for their daughter, but fear the suddenness and scale of the cutbacks will seriously damage any improvements she’s made at school over the last two years.

The National Council for Special Education said it did not comment on individual cases.

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