Special schools could return to full capacity in early March, says minister

Currently, special schools are operating for students at 50% capacity, with students attending on alternate days or schedules.
Special schools could return to full capacity in early March, says minister

The Minister for Special Education has told an Oireachtas committee she believes special schools could return to full capacity in early March. Picture: Larry Cummins

The Minister for Special Education has told an Oireachtas committee she believes special schools could return to full capacity in early March.

Currently, special schools are operating for students at 50% capacity, with students attending on alternate days or schedules

Yesterday, special classes in mainstream schools reopened for approximately 10,000 students.

This afternoon, Josepha Madigan appeared at the Oireachtas committee on disability matters where she said the intention is to resume full-time services early next month.

When asked by Senator Mary Seery-Kearney when will special schools return to 100% capacity, the minister said: 

Clearly, we want to get them back to 100% capacity at the earliest opportunity. 

“Whilst I’m not at Cabinet and can’t make those decisions, I imagine it’ll be early March.” 

“There is no decision as such made on that yet but I am hoping that may be the case. There may be further light to come out of the Cabinet meeting later, it remains to be seen.” 

Cabinet is currently meeting to sign off on the Government’s plans to continue with a wider reopening of schools from next Monday.

Children with additional educational needs in junior infants through to second class are expected to return to school next Monday, March 1, under the Government’s plans, the minister told the committee.

However, she is not in a position to give “definitive information” on a timeframe for the return of students in other year groups.

“We hope again it’ll be sooner rather than later, and again there may be some clarity from Cabinet later.” 

Later, in response to a question from Emer Higgins, a Fine Gael TD from Dublin Mid-West, the minister said she was hesitant to give a definitive timeline.

What I can say in terms of special schools, obviously subject to Cabinet making a decision on it later on, it is likely that they will move to 100% in early March, that seems to be the indication.

“I will caveat that by saying it's a decision that Cabinet will have to make.” 

The minister also rejected a claim that there was a lack of contingency planning. “It’s wrong to say there hasn’t been any, there’s been weekly engagement with the education partners.” 

Remote learning is not ideal, she said. “But there’s no choice when a child isn’t back in an in-person environment.”

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