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Boy (9) will get just 30 minutes of education a day without special class, mother says – The Irish Times

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The mother of a nine-year-old boy with Down syndrome says he will get only 30 minutes of education each day, when schools reopen in September, unless the Department of Education reverses a decision not to sanction a special class in his school for pupils with complex needs.

Liz Mulry, whose son Cian is due to start third class in the autumn, said he can no longer cope with a large mainstream class of 26, as the academic gap has widened so much since he started school. Last year her son was so overwhelmed and distressed that he had hid under a table and lay down on the floor to avoid entering the classroom, she said.

Ms Mulry said the principal of St Comán’s Wood primary school in Roscommon town has appealed to the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) to review its decision not to approve the special class.

“The Minister, Josepha Madigan, has been naming and shaming schools [who don’t provide special education], but here is a school which wants to provide a special class and the department is saying no,” she said.

Without a special class “the only education Cian will get is the 30 minutes a day resource teaching and that is not enough”, Ms Mulry, who is a nurse, said.

In a letter to the NCSE, St Comán’s Wood principal, Dr Úna Feeley, said the school, which has over 650 pupils, had an excellent reputation for its inclusive approach to education but “despite our best efforts” was failing those with complex/multiple disabilities.

“As principal, I do not like admitting this,” said Dr Feeley, who pointed out the school has four special classes already, catering for specific needs such as for hearing-impaired children, those with severe speech and language issues and two classes for pupils with ASD (autism spectrum disorder).

She said five children had been identified through diagnostic testing as having multiple disabilities, and a senior psychologist attached to the Children’s Disability Network team had recommended in writing that three of these be accommodated in a small special class in a mainstream school. Due to Covid it had not been possible to fully assess all the children concerned.

Ms Mulry said she had been told that because Cian had a mild intellectual disability he did not fit the criteria for a special class. “I have asked Minister Madigan to look at the full profile of the child,” she said. “Cian has challenging behaviour, communication issues, sensory issues and issues with gross motor skills.”

She said the department should realise that with children “one size does not fit all”.

The Mulrys say that while Cian could join a special class in Athlone “we are not sending him to a different county where he would not know people, when he has friendships here and everyone knows him”.

In her letter to the NCSE, the school principal said she was surprised to discover there was no appeals process once it refused to approve a special class.

Dr Feeley questioned why there were 25 special classes for children with multiple disabilities throughout the country, including eight in Kerry, and yet there were none in Co Roscommon.

“Why is equality of opportunity for children with multiple disabilities different depending on where you live in the country?” she asked in her letter to the NCSE.

The principal appealed to the body to review its decision regarding the special class and “to trust our professional judgment and experience”, and that of the senior psychologist and another special needs expert who is supporting the plea.

Down Syndrome Ireland has also expressed concern. “Every child should be supported to reach their full potential,” said chief executive Barry Sheridan.

“We in Down Syndrome Ireland are working to see if a resolution can be found that will support Cian and give him the best possible opportunities on his education journey.”

In a statement, a spokesman for the Department of Education said it did not comment on individual cases.

“The NCSE continues to engage with relevant schools directly,” he added.

The Department will spend in excess of €2 billion — over 25 per cent of its budget — this year on a wide range of schemes and supports for children with special educational needs, the spokesman said.

“As a result, the number of special education teachers, special needs assistants and special class[es] and school places are at unprecedented levels.”

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