May 18, 2022, Independent Westmeath: Dáil hears of urgent need for 18 second-level special education places in Athlone https://www.westmeathindependent.ie/2022/05/18/dail-hears-of-urgent-need-for-18-second-level-special-education-places-in-athlone/
The State has just three months in which to deliver 15 to 18 special education places needed in Athlone for children with autism about to start secondary school, the Dáil heard today (Wednesday)….
He said that despite the demand for additional special education places, he was not aware of any new classes currently being planned for September at second-level schools in Athlone, Ballinasloe, or South Roscommon.
Deputy Naughten said children on both the Roscommon and Westmeath sides of Athlone were currently facing the prospect of 100km round trips each day in order to access an education.
"The Department had 93 months to get this right, but we are now three months away from those children going into second level and it has not got it right to date," the local TD said….
The Minister acknowledged there was "a gap" in special needs provision between primary and post-primary schools in several parts of the country and that this was "not satisfactory."
She went on to say that if there were not sufficient places for children with additional needs in the Athlone area she would have "no hesitation" in issuing Section 37a notices to schools. A Section 37a notice is an emergency power which allows a Minister to direct schools to establish additional classes for children with special needs….
The Galway-Roscommon TD told the Dáil there were just three primary schools and one second level school providing autism-specific classes in the wider Athlone area, and this was "insufficient" to meet the current needs.
"This must be urgently addressed. The primary schools with autism spectrum disorder classes are St Paul's in Lyster Street, St Joseph's in Summerhill on the Connacht side of the town, and Coosan on the Leinster side of the town.
"At second level, we have just one school, Coláiste Chiaráin in Summerhill, that has autism-specific classes.
"There are 57 primary school pupils in local autism classes in Athlone, Ballinasloe and south Roscommon, and despite the demand for more places, no new classes are being planned for this September….
"There are 57 primary school pupils in local autism classes in Athlone, Ballinasloe and south Roscommon, and despite the demand for more places, no new classes are being planned for this September.
"As I said, the situation at second level is even more stark, with just 23 students with autism being accommodated at present between the schools in Athlone and Ballinasloe, and children facing a 100 km daily return trip. That is unacceptable," said Deputy Naughten.