‘It’s just wrong that children with disabilities have to share support’

Therese McGrath will be on St Patrick’s Bridge in Cork this evening to protest at her son being in a bigger class with just one special needs assistant in September.

Darragh has Down’s syndrome and will celebrate his fifth birthday next week.

He has been attending a pre-school service since January at the deaf unit at St Columba’s National School on Cork’s Douglas Rd, along with four other pupils, some of whom also have significant disabilities.

But while one special needs assistant (SNA) caters for them this year, the infant class they start in at the school in September will have an additional pupil.

“Without the same level of SNA support, he’s going to run wild. He’s an absconder, so he’ll head out any open door, and he’s not toilet trained yet,” said Therese.

“The school and the staff are fantastic but they can only do so much. It’s just wrong that children with disabilities have to share support when they get barely enough with the number there right now.”

The news of yesterday’s U-turn by Education Minister Ruairi Quinn was generally welcomed in education circles as a recognition of the anger of parents and teachers, with the National Parents’ Council-Primary saying it strengthens the need to act on the National Council for Special Education proposal to come up with a different way of allocating supports.

However, the protest planned in 10 towns and cities will go ahead this evening, while parents like Therese and her husband Tony continue to press for adequate care levels from SNAs, and for other provisions for children with special needs in school.

Darragh has been learning sign language and his speech is coming on slowly, after getting a cochlear implant three years ago, but his parents worry that his development and education will be slowed if the proper care is not available at school.

“If the Government can find the wherewithal to reverse one decision, they have to reverse what are really cuts in SNA care as well,” said Therese.

“They can’t send kids back to school next year with less help than they have already.”

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