Parents: The right supports are not in place

While politicians argued the figures inside Leinster House, parents made clear on the streets of Ireland that they reject Government insistence that special needs pupils are getting the right supports in school.

Parents: The right supports are not in place

Protests in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway, and six other towns went ahead despite the rowback on Tuesday over a proposed additional 12% cut to resource teaching hours for children with disabilities.

The main subject of anger was the sharing of the same 10,500 SNAs as this year in schools among 22,000 children in September. That is 10% more pupils than had their help in the past school year.

Parents groups were told yesterday by Education Minister Ruairi Quinn that any child assessed as needing SNA support has had an allocation to their school for the coming year.

Parents weren’t buying it in Cork yesterday evening, where a plan to line St Patrick’s Bridge turned into an occupation and a march to Daunt Square.

Michelle Burke brought 6-year-old daughter Skye, who attends an autism unit at Berrings National School near Inniscarra, where her autistic brother Caolán is about to finish fourth class. With two others with autism in his class, and two more sometimes joining from the autism unit, two SNAs are in class and also help a child with Down syndrome.

“The school’s been given half an SNA less for September, so I’m afraid it could mean just one SNA in a class with six children who need help. He lost SNA access a few years ago and he really regressed without it, and took a long time to get his confidence back,” Ms Burke said.

Gillian Byrne from Kilworth brought 8-month-old son Keane, who has Down syndrome and hearing loss, and who will have surgery soon for holes in his heart.

“I want to see him go to mainstream school so he’s not excluded from his own community if he’s in a special school miles away. But the way things are going, he won’t be able to because the facilities or the right staff won’t be there,” she said.

In Dublin, about 600 rallied outside the Dáil where they gave a frosty welcome to politicians emerging from Leinster House, including Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin at whom they shouted “shame on you”.

More than 100 parents from Limerick, Kerry, Tipperary, and Clare took part in the protest at Limerick City Hall.

Catherine Callanan, from Oola, Co Limerick, said when her son, now aged 12, started school eight years ago, he had a full-time SNA.

“Now his resource teaching time is down to four hours, 15 minutes a week. Resource time makes a huge difference, they thrive on the one-to-one. It’s about time the Government started looking after our children.”

In last night’s Dáil debate on special needs resources, Mental Health and Disabilities Minister Kathleen Lynch defended the Government, saying there had been no cuts to levels of SNA support allocated to children, and 80 may still be appointed where there are late applications.

Fine Gael TD Mary Mitchell-O’Connor, a teacher, also defended resources for children with special needs.

Following a meeting with disability groups yesterday, Mr Quinn invited them to contribute to a working committee on SNA provision. However, the groups said they wanted representation on the committee, not just a chance to make a contribution.

They said the requirement for the same number of SNAs to support 2,000 more students this year would result in increased costs in the future to support the children as they become young adults, “due to insufficient and appropriate support in earlier years”.

The groups also raised the non-implementation of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act (EPSEN) Act 2004 with Mr Quinn.

“The minister stated that ‘we simply cannot implement it’ with estimated costs of implementation calculated by the Departments of Health and of Education of €775m,” the group said in a statement afterwards.

“The groups asserted that they would continue to lobby for the implementation of the EPSEN Act and reversal of cuts in the disability sector across all government departments and to defend and protect the allocations that currently exist.”

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