Covid-19 restrictions on children with special needs are to be lifted in Laois and other counties next week according to the Minister for Education Norma Foley TD.
A statement from the Department of Education said all parties are working together towards a phased return for children in special schools and a return to school for those in special classes in primary schools and children with significant additional needs in mainstream primary classes, beginning on Thursday, January 21.
“The Government paused plans for a partial reopening last week recognising that the education partners were expressing concerns in relation to reopening on 11 January," said Minister Foley. "The pause has given me an opportunity to listen to those concerns, to engage intensively with key stakeholders, with Public Health and with disability advocacy groups so that I can get a comprehensive picture of what we now need to do.
“A series of meetings with key stakeholders from the primary school and special school sector this week culminating in this morning’s meeting have been very positive. All parties share my objective to work together so that children with special educational needs, who find it very hard to engage with remote or online learning receive some face to face education in schools before a fuller reopening is possible.
“We are working together towards a phased return for children in special schools and a return to school for those in special classes in primary schools and children with significant additional needs in mainstream classes beginning on 21 January.
“During this lead into a phased commencement of in-school services at primary level, we are working in parallel with post-primary stakeholders to address their concerns and recognising that post-primary schools present different logistical challenges if a partial return is to be possible. I very much hope that we can work together to set out a pathway for the return of all children at all levels of schooling at the start of February, subject of course to Government and public health consideration of what constitutes the safe movement of people at that point.
“I am aware that staff, parents and students across all levels of education are looking for very clear communication from our colleagues in the health sector to reaffirm that infection prevention and control measures in our schools are effective at this time.
“My officials are continuing to engage closely with senior Public Health specialists in this respect and direct communications in the coming days through webinars, videos for parents and written FAQs will supplement the significant levels of information and guidance available already.
“I want to commend the efforts of schools, parents and students this week as remote learning has resumed.”
Minister Foley issued her statement after she and her colleague the Minister of State for Special Education and Inclusion Josepha Madigan met with primary and special education stakeholders.
“I am pleased that there is now a commitment to work towards a return to school for students in special schools and primary school special classes as well as students with special educational needs in mainstream primary classes from 21 January.
"As Minister of State for Special Education, I have always been determined to ensure that the educational and personal development of students with special educational needs are fully supported as we continue to combat the spread of Covid-19. I was very happy that the calls for in-person educational provision for students by special educational needs by myself and others were recognised and accepted by Government, and that commitment to achieving agreement to bring this about never wavered.
“It is now vital that we continue to work with all stakeholders in education, including post-primary, to ensure that remaining concerns are addressed so that a partial return to school may begin from the 21 January.
“I have engaged with families, representative groups and the partners in education to hear their views and to help secure an agreement. It is vital that all voices are heard as part of this process. There is a positive willingness to be proactive and supportive of our most vulnerable students at this time. I welcome the solution-focused approach that all stakeholders have brought to the ongoing engagement on education provision for children with special educational needs in this period. We all have a shared objective of supporting our students with special educational needs and providing them with face to face learning in a safe environment as soon as possible.
“We all know the difficulties faced by students with special educational needs during periods of school closures. Schools provide vital support and structure. Distance learning and a one-size-fits-all approach does not work for every student. Previous closures saw students regress and lose vital skills. No one is in any doubt of the needs of these students to access learning provision in-person and I am pleased that we are working in partnership to address issues arising and to provide schools with flexibility to support children within an agreed framework for return.
“The driving concern is and must continue to be the wellbeing in the fullest sense of the children who rely on specialist provision to receive their education and to progress. I am pleased that today we can provide them and their families with some certainty of a return to routine, with a phased return for children in special classes and schools, and provision for children with identified needs in mainstream classes,” concluded Ms Madigan.
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