Bring special-needs children to us, education ministry appeals
Even as the new academic year officially begins tomorrow, the Ministry of Education is still in the process of securing placement for some 100 special-needs students. However, acting permanent secretary in the ministry Dr Grace McLean gives the assurance that there are enough spaces available for these children with learning disabilities, who, in the past, were often kept at home.
“Parents are no longer hiding their children who have special needs. They are coming forward, and I am trying to find placement for them. We have some difficulties in terms of some preferences that the parents may require, and in some cases, too, we have to match the children, depending on where they live,” McLean stated during a back-to-school press conference at the ministry last Thursday.
“You would not want to place children who live in Spanish Town in Kingston, so there has to be almost like a school-by-school assessment to match each student accordingly.”
Among the children who need to be placed in schools are recent graduates from the Early Stimulation Programme, who were expected to continue further education at the institution for another two to three months until a suitable primary-level school could be found for them.
It was revealed in a Sunday Gleaner story last week that some of the parents had pleaded with the school’s administrator to keep the students because of the challenges they were facing in finding affordable special-needs institutions for them.
“The process for ensuring that our special-education students are appropriately placed requires an initial assessment and observation, and in some cases, a formal assessment report from the specialist. That is what the officer uses to determine what school would be best suited for those children,” said McLean.
The acting permanent secretary said that the ministry’s special education unit is staffed with experts who would be working with the different schools to ensure that all the students are taken care of.
She said that there are about 35 schools that are operated as special-needs centres in partnership with the ministry. In addition, the education ministry has purchased private places at 22 schools.
“The ministry has never refused the placement and the support for the funding of students with special needs. We try to keep the regular grant budget as open as possible to make sure that we can afford it,” she said.
MORE THAN $400 MILLION IS BEING SPENT
Minister without portfolio in the Education Ministry Karl Samuda said that more than $400 million is being spent to educate special-needs children across the country, but he admitted that more money should be invested in this area.
“This ministry has the responsibility to protect them, and so we will be putting in place funds to make sure that the facilities that care for those children are in place,” said Samuda.
Appealing to parents, the minister stressed, “Do not keep your children at home because you fear that they can’t cope.”
McLean also made a similar appeal.
“We are inviting parents to go to the unit if you are in Kingston or go to any one of our regional offices,” she said.
“Many of the mild cases can actually be accommodated within our schools, and that is why to date, we have 871 students placed by the ministry alone.”
There are more than 4,500 students accessing special education across the island.