Four advocacy groups have hit out at the Government and education stakeholders over the re-opening of schools.
AsIAm, Down Syndrome Ireland, Family Carers Ireland and Inclusion Ireland have said that children with special educational needs, and their families and carers “have been almost completely forgotten.”
The four groups are urging that “the interests of vulnerable children to be prioritised.”
Plans for in-school special education to resume on Thursday are in doubt as the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) says teachers' safety concerns have not been addressed.
The four advocacy groups are now calling for the Government and education stakeholders to re-engage to find an agreement “on a suite of education support options that includes the re-opening of schools for children with special educational needs.”
A spokesperson for the four organisations said: "The manner in which this issue is being dealt with – with u-turns, mixed messages and false dawns, needs to stop.
“The Department and education stakeholders need to get this sorted once and for all. Our most vulnerable students – children with disabilities and special educational needs, their families and their carers have been almost completely forgotten about in this row.
“While a focus on the return to school should be a priority, in light of the continued uncertainty of a return to school for children with special education needs, urgent interim measures need to be put in place, whilst schools remain closed for these children.
“Direct virtual 1:1 access to the teacher, special education teacher or SNA, direct virtual access to therapy supports, in-home supports from a teacher or SNA will work for many of these pupils and in-school supports for those children who cannot engage in this manner.”
The spokesperson added that the discussions that have taken place between Government and educational stakeholders “have relegated the voice and needs of the child throughout this process.”
They added: “The unfolding of events over the last two weeks has drained many of the families we represent. Families of children with SEN need practical solutions and a return to adequate learning for these children.
“We cannot lose sight of the significant harm being done to many students with special educational needs by the continued absence of an adequate level of education supports.
“We’re again calling for their interests to be put first, and for all parties to re-engage to bring this issue to a successful outcome.”
The four groups have also written to Education Minister Norma Foley seeking to discuss the issue with her and officials.
“Whilst schools for special education remain closed, families will continue to see further regression of their child. With each passing day we are losing valuable time in providing these children with an adequate education,” the groups wrote in their letter.
Earlier today, Labour's education spokesperson Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said the Education Minister's outreach to unions and advocacy groups has fallen short.
The INTO committee is due to meet again today.
Separately, Fórsa, the union that represents special needs assistants, is also due to hold an executive meeting to discuss the situation and advise its members.