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Legal letters Parents threaten to sue Department of Education to get special schools re-opened

Senior Government sources say the letters have started to arrive in the last two to three days as a deal to reopen schools this week collapsed.

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Minister for Education Norma Foley pictured during budget briefing at the Dept of Education in Dublin.Picture Credit:Frank McGrath 14/10/20

Minister for Education Norma Foley pictured during budget briefing at the Dept of Education in Dublin.Picture Credit:Frank McGrath 14/10/20

Minister for Education Norma Foley pictured during budget briefing at the Dept of Education in Dublin.Picture Credit:Frank McGrath 14/10/20

PARENTS of children with special education needs have threatened legal action over the continued closure of schools, the Irish Independent understands.

The Department of Education has received letters this week from parents saying their children’s right to education is being denied.

The move will add to pressure to break the impasse over the delay to the reopening of classes for children with special needs.

Senior Government sources say the letters have started to arrive in the last two to three days as a deal to reopen schools this week collapsed.

It comes as fresh efforts are under way to get the partial reopening of schools back on track, after a day of recriminations over who was to blame for the failure to start the phased return of pupils with special needs from today.

As talks continue, the Government may offer to test all teachers and special needs assistants (SNAs) in an attempt to reopen schools for children with special needs.

However, it is expected antigen tests will be used rather than the more accurate PCR testing.

The move comes after union chiefs asked to have all children and staff in special schools tested for Covid-19 as a condition of returning to work.

The union Fórsa, which represents SNAs, put forward the proposal during talks. While it had concerns over the accuracy of antigen tests, the union was open to using them.

However, it is understood the proposal was rejected by the Department of Education because it was believed the testing would be too invasive for children with special needs. But testing for staff may offered as a compromise.

The department also continued to insist public health advice on Covid-19 says schools are safe environments for teachers and students when compared with other workplaces.

Education Minister Norma Foley yesterday met management bodies in the primary sector to get their views on reopening.

Today, her department is engaging with the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) and Fórsa.

Moves aimed at staggering the return of 23,000 pupils had ended in controversy on Tuesday night when Ms Foley abandoned the plan because of a lack of cooperation from the unions.

At the heart of union opposition is a fear among members of returning at a time of high levels of Covid-19 infection.

The collapse led to calls on Taoiseach Micheál Martin in the Dáil to intervene, with claims that the ministers involved had “lost control” of the situation.

Meanwhile, families of children with special needs are seeking a meeting with Mr Martin to press for urgent supports to help them while schools remain closed to their children.

Four advocacy organisations said the issue was “moving out of the realm of education” and they were “facing a welfare and wellbeing crisis for these children and their families”.

AsIAm, Down Syndrome Ireland, Family Carers Ireland and Inclusion Ireland expressed deep disappointment at the failure to reopen schools for children with special needs.

“The latest news on the continued closure of schools for children with special educational needs is another cruel blow to families,” they said.

Meanwhile, a survey has found that four in five Leaving Cert students want a choice between calculated grades and sitting June exams this year.

The survey by the Irish Second Level Students Union found that the first preference of over half of the students – 55pc – is to have that flexibility and the figure rises to 81pc when second preferences are included.

Only 4pc of students – one in 25 – voted for the conventional exams as their top option.

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Irish Independent


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