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Children with special needs getting a raw deal at schools, parents say

By Evie Andreou

Parents of children with special needs lashed out at the government on Wednesday because some of their children have yet to go to school this year due to lack of escorts, most of whom are not even qualified do the job properly, they said.

The education ministry said it was working to resolve the problem.

The issue was discussed at the House education committee, where MPs heard that despite the fact schools opened last week, children who require special education remained at home either because their application for an escort has not been assessed yet by district committees, or due because there is lack of escorts.

Parents, MPs and teacher unions were present at the meeting expressed their bewilderment that the representatives of the education ministry could not say exactly how many escorts were needed in all districts for children in need of support to go to school.

The head of special education of the ministry, Georgia Kouma, told the committee that there has been an increasing demand but could not say the exact number. She said they still have a large number of applications that need assessing and blamed the delay on the teachers’ strike.

Yioula Pitsiali, member of the parents’ association for children with cerebral palsy and other paralyses, ‘Angalia-Elpida’ (Hug-Hope), said that they had reported many times the fact that their children were being discriminated against and being sent in special units within schools.

“We have heard that they have no escorts for the children. There are zero escorts. They have thus admitted that the reason the children do not receive approval to attend classes is due to lack of escorts,” Pitsiali said after the meeting.

She added that her association also pointed out that the only necessary qualification to hire school escorts at the moment is a high-school diploma. Another grievance was that parents only get one vote when it comes to the decision which person to hire while the school districts have the majority.

“So, you realise that recruitment is not based on the criterion of what each child needs, but what suits everyone,” she said.

Another parent, member of the association of parents of children with Down Syndrome, Andreas Christodoulou said that they feel their children have been neglected by the education ministry.

He too said that they did not agree with special units in state schools and that their children ought to be in the classroom with all other pupils.

Christodoulou also said a nine-year-old girl had a male escort, who, has to also change her nappies.  “If she were your daughter would you agree to a male escort doing this?” he asked.

He also said that often children are being assigned escorts who know nothing about their condition.  “Unthinkable things are happening. We are giving money for useless things and where we have to give money, to special education, unfortunately our children are cast away,” he said.

The head of the House education committee, Kyriacos Hadjiyiannis called on the education ministry to speed up procedures to cover existing needs.

The ministry said it was expecting to receive soon a report by experts from the EU on special education and that it was in consultations with the finance ministry to increase the number of escorts to be hired for this school year.

 

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