Special Schools and Special Classes are to remain open under the updated COVID-19 public health restrictions according to Fine Gael Seanad Education spokesperson, Aisling Dolan.
Senator Dolan said, “The closure of Special Needs Schools and Special Classes in the first lockdown was very difficult for families with children with special needs. In the majority of cases they were unable to engage in distance or remote learning and this had a major impact on their development.
“Many parents spoke of regression and concerns about physical and mental health as daily structure and routine is crucial for their wellbeing and development.
“We have learned a lot since the last time the pandemic was at such serious levels in this country. While we need to fully embrace the level 5 restrictions in order to protect public health, it is positive that we are keeping the Special Needs Schools open this time around. It is also very welcome that Special Classes in mainstream schools will remain open too.
“For the students who avail of the 124 Special Schools around the country, they provide a really vital daily structure as well as important access to trained professionals.
“They provide multi-disciplinary teams of specialists to cater to children with intellectual disabilities with complex need or physical disabilities. There is a holistic approach focused on art, dancing, music as well as educational.
“I know from the local schools in my own area: St Teresa’s School in Ballinasloe, Ability West; St Michael’s Castlerea, Brothers of Charity; and St Hilda’s Services in Athlone, what a vital support these schools are to the children and families who need them.
“I want to thank the principals and staff of these schools for the invaluable supports to families at this tough time.
“Extra supports have been put in place to assist schools in identifying and responding to students’ needs, for example the Continuum of Support resource packs for teachers and parents”, continued Senator Dolan.
“Budget 2021 also provided for extra Educational Psychologists. NEPS psychologists work with both primary and post-primary schools and each psychologist is assigned to a group of schools. They work in partnership with teachers, parents and children in identifying educational needs focusing on learning, behaviour, social and emotional development. Parents can find guides on the NEPs section at education.ie.
“€50 million was paid out in December 2020 in Information and Communications Technology (ICT) grants for schools which included an increase of €10 million for specific Covid-19 measures. This was designed for improving digital technologies and to provide for remote learning.
“It is imperative we continue to support the students who need it most and help them cope with the challenges of this pandemic.”