Parents with children with additional needs Aisling Henebry, Tim and Claire Madden with Mary and Eugene Hickey at a press conference in Cork city this week. Photo: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

Parent: 'It’s just not fair'

By Katie O'Keeffe

One child is one too many according to a group of parents that spoke out on Tuesday after being informed that their children have no school place in the secondary school which is supposed to act as a feeder for their primary school.

Kayla, Andy and Abbey are pupils at Cara Junior School, which is a special school for pupils who have a diagnosis of both Autism Spectrum Disorder and an intellectual disability.

Cara Junior School is supposed to be a feeder school to Scoil Treist but this is no longer the case due to a split in the patronage a number of years ago.

Scoil Treist now take in children from a number of schools and this in turn reduces the intake numbers from Cara Junior School. 30 children are waiting for placement with a capacity to accommodate only ten of those.

The parents are now taking Separate Section 29 appeals against the decision. Kayla’s mother Aisling Henebry told the Cork Independent the stress that has been put on her family is devastating.

She said: “I haven’t slept, I have cried myself to sleep, all of this for a school place for my child. It’s just not fair.

“They are graduating from Cara Junior School this June, but the kids have nowhere to graduate to.”

Mary and Eugene Hickey’s 12 year old son Andy was also hoping to progress from Scoil Cara to Scoil Treist in September. He as well as the other pupils who were denied a place has been offered 20 hours of home tuition per week.

“He needs school to be school and home to be home,” said Mrs Hickey.

Andy gets a taxi to school every day, he meets his friends and gets to increase his social skills. His parents say that as well as missing out on his education, home schooling will take away vital services and facilities offered to children in special needs schools such as occupational therapy.

She added: “This isn’t something that appeared from nowhere last March, the minute Andy set his foot in the education system there should have been a place for him. Life is hard enough when you have a child with additional needs and we shouldn’t have to knock on the door and find out that you have to go to the other door instead.”

Claire and Tim Madden’s 12 year old daughter Abbey does not qualify for a place in any other special school in Cork due to her dual diagnosis of intellectual disability with mild autism.

“There are ASD units being set up all over the city in schools, but they are not suitable. We have already applied and they told us they can’t cater for our children,” said Mr Madden.

The family feel extremely frustrated and feel their daughter has been overlooked.

He added: “We will travel to the County if we have to, once our child gets her education that is all we want.

“20 hours home schooling with no social skills for our child can’t happen. We have already done this due to Covid-19. It will drive her backwards, if we have to go back to that it will be detrimental to her.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Education said: “This Department has no authority to compel a school to admit a student, except in circumstances where an appeal under section 29 of the Education Act, 1998 has been allowed and the appeals committee directs that the school admit the child concerned.”

They added: “The Department and the NCSE continue to work towards the development of additional placements in the Cork area to meet ongoing and future demand.”