Sun | Sep 22, 2019

No place for special needs children … Parents bemoan lack of sufficient, affordable schools for students with learning disabilities

Published:Sunday | August 25, 2019 | 12:28 AMNadine Wilson-Harris - Staff Reporter
Antonica Gunter-Gayle (centre), principal of the Early Stimulation Programme, along with parents and guests, enjoys a moment with students of the institution at the annual transition exercise last year.

Parents of special-needs students who recently graduated from one early childhood institution in Kingston are pleading with the school’s administrator to keep their children, because of challenges they are experiencing in finding suitable placement in primary schools.

A father of one of the recent graduates of the Early Stimulation Programme in Kingston said that, like him, several parents are frustrated because, although the start of the new school year is just about a week away, they are yet to find a place for their special needs children in the public education sector.

“The parents of most of the kids in the class were saying they are not going to let them graduate, because there is nowhere to place them,” said the frustrated dad.

“Now September is almost here and my son hasn’t been placed as yet and it doesn’t make sense I keep him home for another two or three months.”

The father said he has been searching for an affordable institution to place his special-needs eight-year-old-son, but so far, the cheapest school he has located in the Corporate Area will cost him $50,000 per term. There are institutions that cater for children with learning disabilities, which charge as much as $90,000 per term, based on Sunday Gleaner checks.

He said he sought placement for him at the Randolph Lopez School of Hope, but was told that the assessment, which is a pre-requisite for acceptance, could not be done for another four months. The school is jointly operated by the Jamaica Association on Intellectual Disabilities and the Ministry of Education.

“It is not like we are not looking, but the schools are expensive and most of them are private,” said the father, whose son has a developmental delay, but no physical challenges.

NO CHILD WILL BE LEFT IN THE COLD

When contacted, director and principal of the Early Stimulation Programme, Antonica Gunter-Gayle, confirmed that some of the students who had graduated from the institution are yet to find placement in other schools. As a result, she said that the institution will be keeping these children for another two to three months until a suitable school can be located for them.

“Students are being placed, but it is just taking a little more time because of the numbers,” she said. “I told the parents no child will be left in the cold, and they are happy to hear that.”

The principal said the school recently acquired four additional classrooms which will allow them to accommodate new students as well as keep those who have not been able to find a place at the primary level.

“We did it last year as well, where we held a few of them for a few more months until they were placed,” said Gunter-Gayle.

“We don’t want them to regress if they stay home and not get the therapy.”

The Early Stimulation Programme is a special intervention initiative that was established in 1975 and caters to children up to six years old, who suffer from various disabilities.

However, the father who spoke to the Sunday Gleaner said that he has seen children at the early childhood institution as old as 11 years old, and feels that this is because enough has not been done by the education ministry to create enough public schools for children with special needs.

Gunter-Gayle said the Ministry of Education has been working to get some of the students placed, but there are still about 15 students who are yet to find a school.

She said that unlike in the past, parents are not keeping their special needs children at home.

“I’m glad that parents are concerned about wanting these children, with sometimes some of the most severe disability, to come out and to be a part of the society, because they have every right to an education,” she said.

 

nadine.wilson@gleanerjm.com