Return of special education must not be contingent on overall reopening of schools - Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire has said that the issue of special education must be an objective in and of itself and should not be rolled in the overall process of reopening schools.
Speaking this evening, Teachta Ó Laoghaire said:
"I am concerned that the issue of special education will be rolled into the overall process of reopening schools. That would be a huge mistake.
"It can be considered in conjunction but reopening special education must be an objective in and of itself.
"We want to see all schools reopened as soon as possible once it is safe to do so. But we all know that cannot be guaranteed and that public health advice will dictate the full reopening of schools.
"If a decision is made to delay the return of schools - until mid or even late February - it would be a tragedy if children with special educational needs are left behind yet again.
"We have always said that children with special educational needs must be a first priority - we support this where it is being delivered in the north.
"It should not be contingent, it must be a separate objective and talks with stakeholders must continue on that basis. The Minister should commit that the return of special education will not be contingent on the overall return to education.
"The failure to ensure special education reopened this week caused immense anger and frustration.
"These are the children who were among the greatest losers during the first lockdown. The reality is that remote learning for these children is no equal, and in some instances near impossible.
"The Minister first announced without consultation, and the next time without agreement from the key stakeholders.
"It should be obvious that to get such a sensitive and complex issue over the line, it needs to be nailed down. But it collapsed and that is a failure of government in their rush to deliver good news.
"Despite this upheaval, there remains a shared objective to reopen special education. But the government needs to pick up the pieces and engage with all stakeholders in a meaningful way.
"There may be lingering tension between the Minister for Education and trade unions. No one expects them to be best friends but they do now need to work together and get a result.
"If the government is sincere in their efforts, solutions need to be found, including flexibility for high-risk staff, serial testing for staff, the 40% cut in the grant for PPE/sanitising to be reversed and the extension of supply panels.
"We need a change of approach from Minister Foley, Minister Madigan, and the Taoiseach, who must take direct responsibility for fixing this mess of their own making."