HSE confirms closure of special needs school

The HSE has confirmed that the pre-school service at St Agnes in Donegal town will no longer be required by September 2014. But the executive says that the building will continue to be used to provide services to adults with intellectual disability.

The HSE has confirmed that the pre-school service at St Agnes in Donegal town will no longer be required by September 2014. But the executive says that the building will continue to be used to provide services to adults with intellectual disability.

The HSE says St Agnes’s Specialist Preschool in Donegal town is a HSE facility which provides specialist pre-school interventions for children with moderate to severe intellectual disability, aged from 2 years, 10 months to 5 years of age.

A review was undertaken by the HSE in September 2010 and a report was published in September 2011. The agreed preferred option was that all children, regardless of their ability or disability, should be accessing mainstream preschools in their own communities and with their own peers, rather than being segregated in specialist preschools.

In a statement issued yesterday the HSE says a Project Implementation Team has commenced work to ensure that children with intellectual disability continue to receive the supports that they require in mainstream preschools.

Reacting to the announcement, Deputy Pearse Doherty said, “After being contacted by concerned parents over the closure of St Agnes’ Preschool for children with special needs in Donegal Town, I am calling on the HSE to consult with the parents of children who intended to avail of the services in St. Agnes’s.

“These parents are in complete shock and are not aware of what supports will be available to their children in mainstream education. This preschool for special- needs children is one of only two in the county and provides an essential service to young children with special needs in the south of the county. The preschool caters for young children with conditions such as Down Syndrome and autism, and the early intervention this service provides is invaluable in the child’s future development.

“The decision to close this school will cause huge anguish and upset for the children and parents who are currently availing of its facilities and also for those who intended to do so in future years.”

Deputy Thomas Pringle concurred with the sentiments expressed by Deputy Doherty.

“I can accept that international best practice suggests that children with special needs performer much better when they are integrated into mainstream education,” he commented.

“However in the present financial climate I have to question whether the Department of Education have the ability to finance the additional SNAs, the resource teachers and indeed the resource hours. I strongly doubt it.

“It is also worth noting that the staff at St. Agnes’s school have been providing additional services such as physiotherapy.How will this be dealt with in the mainstream.

“I would call for more clarification on this matter,” he added.