Adjournment Debate. - School Placement.

This child has not been able to attend school since last November when she was withdrawn from Scoil Colmcille in Ballybrack, following a meeting between the child's mother, the school principal and I understand a Department inspector.

The child commenced her primary education in Archbishop McQuaid junior school in Loughlinstown, the closest school to her. Her performance was psychologically reviewed at intervals by the Eastern Health Board since she started school. This review displayed evidence of developmental delay. She then attended a special class in the Dominican Convent primary school in Dun Laoghaire from September l993 until June l995. The report of the Eastern Health Board's psychologist states:

A cognitive review here in June l995 indicated lower extreme Mild Learning Disability. [The child] commenced special class placement in Scoil Colmcille Senior N.S. in September l997 and her teachers recently requested a review. As her parents were anxious to secure a placement for [the child] in St. Augustine's School, Blackrock, Dr Mary Nugent assessed her there on the 24th November l997. Results of cognitive testing revealed a Moderate Learning Disability and placement in St. Augustine's was considered to be inappropriate.

Following this the child experienced some unwelcome attention from other children and it was felt at the meeting between her mother, the school principal and the departmental inspector that the best course was to withdraw her from the school, which happened last November. Since then the child's parents have been attempting to get a placement for her in another school. Initially they succeeded in getting a promise of a placement in St. Catherine's special school in Newcastle, County Wicklow. However, the child had no transport to the school. There is a bus from Bray to Newcastle, but the parents did not have transport from their home in Loughlinstown to Bray.

On 10 March I wrote to the Minister seeking school transport for the child. Following this St. Catherine's special school notified the parents that a place was not available for the child. I wrote to the Minister on 24 March pointing this out and seeking assistance in ensuring the child could be placed in a school which was appropriate to her needs and acceptable to her parents. I again wrote to the Minister on 23 April and the letter was acknowledged on 11 May.

As we approach the end of June the situation is that the parents, who have been teaching the child at home and doing their best to keep her education up-to-date, are extremely concerned about getting a placement for her in an appropriate school or class which is acceptable to them and to which there is transport. They are particularly anxious that such a placement should be arranged for her by next September. They have asked St. Augustine's school to reconsider its decision not to place her there. The assistance of the Department is required. It is unreasonable and unfair that the child has not been able to attend school since last November. The parents are to be greatly commended for their efforts in keeping the child's education up-to-date and for doing the best they can in the circumstances. However, this situation obviously cannot continue. The child will need normal, proper and appropriate schooling and I ask the Minister to intervene and ensure the resources of the Department are made available to secure a placement for the child so that she can continue her education.

The child in question is ten years of age and has been assessed as having a moderate mental handicap. She lives in the catchment area for St. Michael's House special school, Grosvenor Road, Dublin 6, which caters for children with a moderate mental handicap. I understand the child's mother approached the school in January 1998 with a view to enrolling the child and that it was intended that the child would commence in the school after the Easter holidays of this year. Transport to and from the school could have been provided. However, the family contacted St. Michael's House and advised that the child would not be enrolling.

I understand the parents of the child want to enrol her in St. Catherine's special school, Newcastle, County Wicklow, which is also a school for moderately mentally handicapped pupils. This school has advised our Department that it has not offered the child a place. The school does not have vacancies at present and priority on its waiting list is given to children from its own catchment area. The child does not live in this school's catchment area. Even if the school had a vacancy, I understand the child's parents have no means of transporting her to school.

Our Department's school transport scheme provides transport to children attending their nearest suitable special class or special school. In this case, as I previously stated, transport could be provided to St. Michael's House special school.

Wherever possible, our Department tries to facilitate children whose parents choose to enrol them in a special school outside the catchment area by allowing them access, on an incidental basis, to special school transport services. If a place in St. Catherine's had been offered to the child, it would not have been possible to facilitate her with incidental transport as there is no space on the nearest transport service. I also understand the child's parents could not have brought her to the pick-up point.

I share Deputy Gilmore's concern that the child has been without schooling for some time. This is a serious matter. However, I assure the Deputy that St. Michael's House special school can offer a suitable educational placement for the child. A placement is available to the child from September if the parents wish to enrol her and transport will be provided for her.

I concur with what Deputy Gilmore said and thank him for raising this important and sensitive case. It is very important that the child at this stage of development gets the maximum opportunity to enter a proper educational environment. Perhaps collectively, I, Deputy Gilmore and the Department might be able to persuade the parents that placing the child in the school which has a placement from September would be in her best interests.

The Dáil adjourned at 10.55 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 25 June 1998.