Wrestle for particular schooling helps ‘morally improper’
“Every day I look out the window and see this kid go home early. And my heart breaks a little for him because I know that we don’t meet his needs and that he deserves better. “
These are the words of an elementary school director. He is referring to a little boy, a toddler in his school.
This little boy spent reduced hours all year round. He only spends an hour and 40 minutes in school each day because the school says they don’t have the resources to support him any longer.
“We received an application for admission to a child who was in government care before the summer vacation. Child with complex, additional needs,” the headmaster told RTÉ News.
But the school had a problem. Last year, the allocation for special needs workers in all schools was frozen at the previous year’s level.
SNAs cater to a child’s care needs to ensure that their disability does not get in the way of their learning. Some schools benefited from this freeze and held on to an SNA even if the child who needed it may have moved on, but other schools – like this one – could be the losers.
“The required level of evidence seems to have reached a catastrophic failure before a motion is accepted.”
Sam (not his real name) has autism and moderate to severe learning disabilities. It’s non-verbal. He should be in a special school, but everyone around him is overbooked. This mainstream school says they knew straight away that they couldn’t properly care for him under their existing SNA offering.
A special mechanism has been created for schools in this position. You can request an “extraordinary review” of your allocation.
The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) defines grounds for exceptional review as “an unforeseen, unusual, or sudden event that is beyond the control of the school and that has had a significant impact on primary care needs in the school and, as a consequence, primary care responsibilities are performed the existing SNA assignment is not fulfilled “.
This school submitted an application in September. She applied to the authorities for an additional special education assistant for Sam. But the school’s application was denied.
Last year 1,488 schools requested exceptional ratings. Almost half of these requests (48%) were rejected.
In a letter to Sam’s school, the NCSE said, “The result of the review is that the mainstream SNA assignment available to the school has not changed. After reviewing the application, it is assumed that the current allocation of SNA support is sufficient to meet the additional nursing needs. “
School authorities and disability organizations are concerned about the rejection, which they think is too high.
“The required level of evidence appears to fail catastrophically before an application is accepted,” said Lorraine Dempsey, Acting CEO of Inclusion Ireland.
“This can lead to injuries to the staff or the child themselves. Therefore, instead of a preventive approach, we wait for an absolute failure before we use additional support.”
Refusal of enrollment by 24 elementary schools
Sam is older than the other junior infants at school. He got off to a late start because it was proving extremely difficult to find a school that would accept him at all. A total of 24 elementary schools were approached, but all 24 refused to enroll him.
This is a problem that children with disabilities like Sams often face.
“When you have a child in the state who is denied by another state agency. That shouldn’t be happening.”
He is a strong little boy, but he has great difficulty dealing with his behavior. I meet him one morning as his short day at school is coming to an end. Sam is sitting in a sensory room with a special education teacher and a teacher.
This small room has dim lighting and its floor is filled with pillows and stuffed toys that will help a child like Sam relax. When she calms Sam down and persuades him to put on his shoes, the trusting bond between Sam and his SNA becomes clear.
After a while, Sam is brought into the auditorium by his SNA and a teacher so that he can be picked up there. Normally he would wait in the yard, but it’s raining.
Here he can really let off steam. Hand in hand with his SNA he runs through the hall, both of them throw themselves at the end of their gallop on the big bouncy cushions. Every now and then he pauses and gives her a reassuring look before continuing.
“This should have been one of the easiest applications we have ever submitted to the NCSE,” says the headmaster.
“This child was first screened in 2015 when they were around a year or two old. Their needs are well defined. They are in the care of the state. This child’s needs should have been prioritized rather than ours found out, ignored. “
The experienced headmaster describes the whole experience as “very traumatic”.
“It actually affected my own health. When you have a child in the state who is denied by another state agency. That should not happen.
“We have one of the weakest members of the school community I have ever seen who has not been given the resources they clearly deserve. And we’re at the end of his freshman year. It’s morally wrong. We’re talking about drawing lessons from the past, and yet we’re back here. “
The Irish Primary Principals’ Network says that all primary schools strive to be inclusive.
“They want to do everything possible to support a child in their catchment area,” says IPPN President Damian White. “But the resources have to be there for that.”
“Any school that rejects an application does so with a heavy heart. They do this because they know that they cannot provide for this child with their available means.”
He says subsidies for such children should be “pinned down”. “It shouldn’t be the case that a school that accepts a child then has to fight tooth and nail for resources.”
Call-over monitoring of short-time work
The case of this one child raises another problem; the use of reduced hours for children. Two years ago, a study by Inclusion Ireland / TU Dublin estimated that around one in four students with disabilities such as autism had been exposed to this controversial practice. It could only be estimated, as no data is collected on this.
Inclusion Ireland asked for the use of restricted timetables to be monitored so that the full scope of the practice can be ascertained first. It also called for schools to be required to report to Tusla any reduced hours taken by students.
Then-Education Secretary Joe McHugh promised to put in place guidelines to regulate practice, including an obligation to report to Tusla.
He said the regulations would be in place by early 2020. But they weren’t.
Last week the Minister of Education reaffirmed this intention. In response to a parliamentary question, Norma Foley said it intended to introduce guidelines for the upcoming school year. She said they would put an obligation on schools to report the use of reduced hours.
Ironically, in Sam’s case, this would mean that Tusla School, the government agency that Sam is in charge of, is reporting that his legal right to an education is not being met. Tusla, whose social workers work with the school and Sam’s foster parents, knows that too.
“We are already failing to create an inclusive school model when we have children who are on restricted timetables due to a lack of adequate support,” says Lorraine Dempsey of Inclusion Ireland.
“If the child in question is also a cared for, the dysfunction shows when one part of the state acting in Loco Parentis is unable to acquire the funds from another arm of the state to ensure that the child is constitutional Right fully perceives an apprenticeship. “
“We would accept that the NCSE works within limits,” says Damian White, “but the child has to be the focus of decision-making, not just numbers”.
NCSE sanctions “special class”
“Sam is a wonderful, wonderful little person. You couldn’t love him and you can’t see him bloom and reach his potential. “
A few weeks ago, Sam’s school received good news. The NCSE has approved a “special class” for the school. But it limited the capacity of this class to three children.
The school had applied for a sanction for four children. Sam is one of more than 10 children at the school who have a recommendation for a special school.
The school believes that the fourth child sanction was denied because the school would be eligible for an additional SNA.
The NCSE informed RTÉ News that a standard special class for six children was not possible due to physical limitations at the school. It is said there are “plans to address future building restrictions so the school can enroll six children”.
The school may be disappointed with the class restriction, but all of this is still good news for Sam because he will be one of those three kids.
The school has already scheduled Sam for a full day of school next year.
But he’s lost a year, and a year is a long time to lose for a child his age. Talk to anyone involved in education or dealing with children with disabilities like autism and they will tell you that early intervention is key. And yet the state has allowed a child in its care, who is already disadvantaged several times, to lose a crucial year.
Sam has loving and caring foster parents. He has a school that is committed to doing everything for him.
“Every child leaves their mark,” says the headmistress, “but there are people who just … leave marks that are a little different. Sam is a wonderful, wonderful little person, and you couldn’t want him to thrive and reach his potential. “
With this child’s worst first year of school “hopefully” coming to an end, “we can give him a much better experience next year”.