Story and Copyright: Leitrim Observer; Story: Fiona Heavey.
On Monday, August 24 the Department of Education officially sanctioned the re-location of St Joseph's Special Needs Outreach Class into Marian College, Mohill as well as providing €60,000 of funding to modify the building for wheelchair access.
Following last week's Leitrim Observer front page story which highlighted the fact that eleven special needs children from the county had no school to attend this term, the ball was set rolling within the Department of Education resulting in a re-location and unofficial sanction of monies for the St Joseph's Outreach class by Friday evening last.
On Monday, CEO of Leitrim VEC John Blunnie said he received official notification of the sanction and the funding of €60,000. The money will go towards modifying disabled toilet facilities, construction of ramps and hoists for the children and the creation of a multi sensory room and a quiet room in the old college.
Mr Blunnie told the Leitrim Observer that the project is now going to tender and five quotes must be received before the Department of Education award the work. Despite this, Mr Blunnie said he hopes that the classes will be available for the children by the end of October. He said that the class will still be managed by St Joseph's Special Needs School, Sligo.
Mr Blunnie paid tribute to the Leitrim Observer who highlighted the situation last week and caught the attention of the Minister for Education's office and resulted in speeding up the process of funding. Although Mr Blunnie had originally applied for €66,000 of a grant in June this year, only €60,000 "emergency works" were granted this week, but the option for applying for the further €6,000 has been left open.
Evelyn Carroll Chairperson of the Board of Management of St Joseph's Special Needs School, Sligo told the paper "alternative accommodation has been sourced in Drumshanbo" and "the parents viewed the building and are satisfied with it" for the interim.
One parent who was an avid campaigner for the relocation of St Joseph's Special Needs Outreach class, Evonne Kellett this week said she was "cautiously" welcoming the news. She said she was unhappy that the situation had turned into a political issue only after the funding was granted, with every politician "jumping on the bandwagon" to welcome the news, when only a few actually helped with the cause.
She said she hoped that the process would be completed before Christmas.
Member of St Joseph's Parents Association, Catherine Lynch also welcomed the funding and paid tribute to the Board of Management of St Joseph's Special Needs School and the CEO of Leitrim VEC who worked with the parents over the past 12 months to secure this money.
Catherine commented, "It was a shame that the Department held this up for so long when the work could have been completed over the Summer with the children moving in this week. "It was an annoying and frustrating few months but the work has paid off and we look forward to the children moving into their new classrooms as soon as possible." Catherine extended a big thank you to everyone who helped in any way to secure this funding.