Three sets of parents of children with autism have expressed relief after they were each offered a place in a new secondary school opening in Cork in September.
The parents, who spoke out earlier this year after their children were initially refused a school place, had all lodged section 29 appeals with the Department of Education over the decisions – appeals which were ultimately disallowed.
The former politician who helped them mount the appeals said the fact they were all disallowed, and that they had to fight for school places in the first instance, shows how much more the State must do to support children in a similar position.
Former lord mayor of Cork Chris O’Leary was speaking after confirmation the children have each been offered a place in a new special school due to open in the existing Gaelscoil building in Carrigaline in September.
Mr O’Leary helped mount a successful landmark section 29 appeal in 2008 over a decision by Nagle Community College in Mahon, Cork, to refuse entry to a girl because of her gender into what was then the last boys-only VEC school in Cork. That decision ultimately led to the school becoming co-ed.
But in the case of these three sets of parents, Mr O’Leary said it was clear there was still “no real-life plan for kids with special needs or a disability”.
“They have to fight for their educational milestones that others take for granted.
“They have to fight just to participate in what most people take for granted, and that’s on top of the disadvantage they already face, in how their disability impedes a lot of their outcomes.”
Mary and Eugene Hickey, Aisling and Conor Henebry, and Claire and Tim Madden joined forces in May and went public over their fears for their children's futures after they were refused a school place.
The children were set to graduate from Cara junior school on the city’s northside, which provides special education to children aged five to 12 with autism and mild or moderate learning difficulties – a de-facto feeder school to Scoil Triest in Lota, which caters for children aged 12 to 18 with the same special needs. Both schools are under the patronage of the Brothers of Charity.
The parents all had an expectation the children would progress to Scoil Triest.
But Scoil Triest's board of management said the school was oversubscribed, with just 10 spaces available in September.
The Brothers of Charity told the parents that there was just no space available to facilitate a physical expansion of the school, and they were very disappointed that children had been left without school places.
Mr O’Leary said questions still remain about what happens to the next group of students due to graduate from Scoil Cara, where enrolment has doubled in recent years.
“There is little or no future planning for children with special needs. Their own ability is being impeded by the lack of State vision,” he said.
Last April, Education Minister Norma Foley and Special Education Minister Josepha Madigan announced the creation of 60 new special senior school places in Cork this September through the new school in Carrigaline, and 12 more places to be provided through a change to the designation of St Mary’s Special School in Rochestown.