‘This is very difficult for children, no matter whose children they are’

By Hayden Moore

A SPECIAL Needs Assistant has explained how the safety of the children and the staff is paramount as special schools open their doors at 50 percent capacity.

Special schools reopened their doors on February 11 to allow for a reduced number of children with additional needs to re-enter a school environment.


St Joseph’s Special School

Meanwhile, special classes in mainstream primary and post-primary schools are set to welcome their pupils back on February 22.

Aisling Lohan has worked in St Joseph’s Special School for 25 years and views the school as a “family”.

St Joseph’s has been in Tallaght since 1981, catering for children with additional needs, in particular for mild general learning disability, and they have several additional classes for children with a diagnosis of autism.

Fórsa trade union representative and a Lead Worker Representative in the Balrothery school, Aisling is anxious to quash any commentary that teachers, SNA’s and school staff did not want to return to work.

“We’ve had such bad press, people have had very negative thoughts about people like us who felt that we didn’t want to go back to work,” the Tallaght native said on The Echo’s Local Voices podcast.

“It was never about that, it was always about keeping ourselves and the children that we work with safe and I just want people to know we never said we weren’t going to go back to work.

“We always wanted just to be safe, for our families to be safe, for the children that we work with to be safe and their families to be safe.”

Aisling Lohan 1

Aisling Lohan, Lead Worker Rep at the school

The Department of Education originally dropped plans to reopen schools for special education four-weeks-ago after unions opposed the move.

The primarily basis behind the opposition was on the grounds of safety concerns caused by the uncertainty of new Covid-19 strains.

Speaking about what concerns she had prior to reopening, Aisling said: “The safety of the kids and the staff is paramount, things like masks, because we can’t keep that social distancing that people keep talking about.

“That 2-metres, that doesn’t work with children with special needs, I think they’d actually be offended by you standing that far back.

“We always would be masked up but try make it less invasive as possible really.

“Just make sure that everything is clean and that all the standards have been met.

“Now thankfully our principal has been amazing and once we’ve asked for something, we’ve always got it, so nothing’s been an issue.

“We have had no Covid cases in our school since we got back in September, so we’re very proud of that.”

Prior to the more recent shutdown of schools, the staff in St Joseph’s took photographs of themselves wearing masks so that the students could identify them better.

Now, the 90 students are in school on alternate days and the staff were delighted to see the smiles on their faces as they returned.

“They’re in school all day, at the moment the school’s main focus is health and wellbeing for now because there is so many changes,” says Aisling about the structure of their timetable.

“This is very difficult for children, no matter whose children they are it doesn’t matter, it’s difficult enough for adults to understand.

“What we’re doing is whatever little bit of work can be done during the day but just so they can actually do activities and be with their friends and have some level of normal life.

“It’s hard when you don’t see anybody so when they get to school, they’re getting to see their friends and getting to do different things.

“Their mental wellbeing is very important.

“[On the first day back] we did a lot of playing, Jenga and stuff like that which was more than enjoyable for everybody and I’m sure it was nice for them to be in a different environment and it was nice for us as well.”

Aisling’s words are extracted from the most recent episode of the Local Voices podcast titled ‘Special Schools Return Amid Covid-19 Concerns’.

Listen to Local Voices now on Echo Podcasts, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts.

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