Fianna Fáil TD for Waterford Mary Butler has called on the Education Minister to confirm whether the July Education Programme for children with special needs will go ahead this year.

The scheme provides funding to extend the school year for children with a severe or profound general learning disability or children with autism. However, because of the current COVID-19 restrictions, and the fact that schools are closed, there are concerns that the programme will not run this year.

Deputy Butler explained, “I have been contacted by a number of parents who have been trying to find out about plans for the July Provision, but have been unable to do so. They are understandably concerned that the scheme may not go ahead this year because of the current restrictions and social distancing guidelines.

“The scheme usually provides school-based and home-based education options but parents are now worried that the Coronavirus pandemic will put the whole scheme in doubt. I submitted a Parliamentary Question to Minister McHugh asking him whether the scheme would be going ahead this year. In his reply he stated that his “Department is exploring a number of options for a summer education programme for children with complex special needs”.

“While I appreciate that we have to adhere to the public health advice during this pandemic, these parents and their children need certainty at this time. Many parents have been expressing concern that their children are regressing after being out of school for so long. They want clarity from Minister McHugh and his Department.

“This is unchartered territory and we will continue to be guided by the advice from our public health officials. However, we cannot ignore the impact that the current restrictions are having on children – particularly those with special needs. I will continue to raise this issue with the Minister and press to get clarification as soon as possible”.