Copyright: Leitrim Observer.
Eleven of Leitrim's most vulnerable Special Needs children will be left out in the cold next week, with no suitable school available for them to attend in the county.
Parents of these Special Needs children are facing the prospect that their children who require round the clock care will have no school to attend this year after unofficially learning that the Department of Education refused funding for the basic improvements of Marian College, Mohill which were necessary for the children to move into.
The eleven moderate to severe special needs children were attending St Joseph's Outreach class on the Hilly Road, Drumshanbo last year. The class forms part of St Joseph's Special Needs School, Sligo. The outreach class were offered a reprieve by the Board of Management of Marian's College, Mohill this year who offered their unused building to the class. Leitrim VEC applied for a grant of €65,000 to provide disabled toilets, ramps, hoists, widen doors and make the building suitable for wheelchairs and special needs children.
Last week parents of the children were adamant that the Department had refused their application.
They told the Leitrim Observer they had heard the news through unofficial sources. John Blunnie CEO of Leitrim VEC told the Leitrim Observer he had no official confirmation of the Department's decision on providing funding. He did comment that with just a week left until school resumes it would be too late for any work to be completed in the college. He said the Board of Management of Marian's College, Mohill would still allow the children to move in without funding, if that was suitable.
o one was available from St Joseph's Special Needs School, Sligo to comment on the position of the outreach class.
Evonne Maxwell- Kellett mother of Conor age 5, from Drumreilly who attends the special needs class said "the Department of Education expects us to return to Drumshanbo, but there is no way I am letting my son back. "I wouldn't be able to stop thinking, what if a fire started. The fire escape is a series of stairs from the building and most of the children use wheelchairs, it is so dangerous." Without the Government funding Evonne says, Marian College, Mohill would be unacceptable for wheelchair bound children. "The doors need to be widened and the toilets specially fitted, without these basics it would be impossible for them to attend this school," Evonne outlined. Evonne said she didn't know what she was going to do with her son for the new school term, "No one seems to know or wants to know about the kids or what they have to endure to have a right to get a school like every other child in the country." "We have been told to travel to Sligo and Longford with the kids to special schools there but this would be a two hour trip each way to get to school. Some of the kids need constant changing due to their illnesses and cannot sit travelling for such journeys. It would be inhumane to them," she told the Leitrim Observer. "Every other child of Conor's age can attend National School in their own parish, and my son can't even attend one in his own county, it is just despicable," Evonne stated.
A long term member of St Joseph's Parents Association and mother of two children attending the local special needs class, Catherine Lynch from Drumshanbo explained that the outreach centre has been a 'temporary' centre for nearly ten years. She said the centre was moved to Drumshanbo from St Ciaran's Day Centre, Carrick-on-Shannon in 2000 because of overcrowding. "We moved out under the promise that it was a temporary move and that a new school would be built," Catherine explained. "From 2000 until 2005 there was no hot water in the centre," she revealed, even though some of the children needed to be changed during the day.
In 2005 the parents met with the Department of Education to demand a new school, they were provided with a small amount of funding for improvements. But Catherine said "there are mice in the building, during winter. My daughter Lorraine needs to be tube fed, hygiene is so important and mice running around is anything but hygienic." In one room for the children, there is no window or natural light and none of the rooms are fitted with sinks, the distraught mother told the paper. Catherine is disgusted about the way her two children and others in Leitrim are being treated by the Department of Education. Catherine said she "doesn't have a clue" where she can send her son David, age 17, and daughter Lorraine, age 11, to school next week. "All we need a small amount of money to provide ramps, hoists and disabled toilets, but again it is the vulnerable who gets hit the hardest in this county," Catherine said.
With the Drumshanbo building condemned, Marian College in need of basic fittings and Longford and Sligo schools too long of a journey for these children to travel, Catherine, Evonne and several other parents of special needs children in Leitrim have been left with no options, no alternatives, essentially forgotten and ignored. The halt on public finance by the Government has resulted in the education of Leitrim's eleven special needs children severely compromised.