Children with special needs challenge Government's decision to keep schools closed

The judge adjourned the case to next Monday.
Children with special needs challenge Government's decision to keep schools closed

The court heard that some of the children involved have severely regressed in basic skills due to the school closures and the lack of supports they would normally get as part of their education. File photo: Larry Cummins

High Court challenges have been initiated against the Government’s decision not to reopen schools for pupils with special education needs.

Five test judicial review actions against the decision earlier this month not to reopen the schools were mentioned before Mr Justice Charles Meenan at the High Court yesterday. In their actions the children seek various orders including an injunction compelling the Minister for Education and the State to reopen the schools to those with intellectual disabilities.

The judge adjourned proceedings to Monday's sitting of the court after he directed that the applications for leave to bring the challenges be made in the presence of lawyers for the State.

Each of the actions have been brought on behalf of five school-going children with special needs who are suing through their parents and who cannot be identified for legal reasons.

The parents' fears

The cases arise after the Minister said on January 19 last that the schools would not reopen during the current Covid-19 restrictions due to a lack of cooperation from key staff trade unions.

They say that prior to the announcement, the respondents believed that it was appropriate that the schools should have reopened as planned on January 21 last.

The parents fear for their children's mental and physical wellbeing and say that the schools should be reopened by Government.

The parents also claim that the National Public Health Emergency Team as well as the Government deem schools safe to reopen.

In their actions, the children's parents claim the respondents have failed in their duties towards the children, who have various conditions including Autism Spectrum Disorder.

The court heard that some of the children involved have severely regressed in basic skills due to the school closures and the lack of supports they would normally get as part of their education.

The challenges against the decision

In their separate actions, the applicants seek an order compelling the Minister and the State to provide the children with an adequate and appropriate education, on the basis that the respondents have an obligation under the 1988 Education Act, and Article 42 of the Constitution.

They also seek a declaration that the respondents have failed in their duty to provide for an adequate education for the children under the 1998 Act and Article 42.

They also seek injunctions aimed at compelling the State to provide the children with appropriate and adequate education.

Mr Justice Meenan, who noted that the injunctions sought are mandatory in nature, adjourned the case to next Monday.

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