MLA Justin McNulty has challenged Education Minister Peter Weir to do more for teachers, classroom assistants, pupils and those involved in home to school transport during current Covid-19 schooling arrangements.

Mr McNulty said, "I accept the argument that those with a Special Education Need should be accommodated in schools, be that in special schools, special units or in mainstream schools during this pandemic.  I fully appreciate that these are more than educational settings for children and young people - they provide them with a sense of normality but also ensure they have access to a range of allied health care services such as speech therapy, language therapy and physiotherapy.  However, it is every bit as important that those who work in these environments are safe and feel safe.

Additional resources are needed for schools during the present Covid-19 crisis. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/
Additional resources are needed for schools during the present Covid-19 crisis according to MLA Justin McNulty. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/

"I believe the Minister just doesn’t get it.  School leaders and staff in these environments have been abundantly clear - not enough is being done to protect both staff and pupils.  The evidence shows that there is a low transition rate in special schools, but it doesn’t take into account the emotional health and wellbeing of staff.  It doesn’t allow for the fact that the staff have families and loved ones to go home to each day.  I think the Minister has been completely out of touch.

Pointing out that schools are more than child care settings and that additional resources are needed the Newry and Armagh MLA said "We have substantially more pupils in school during this lockdown compared to that in March 2020 but there has been no more additional resources put in place to protect either children or staff.  This begs the question does the Minister really know what is going on in the schools which he is responsible for.’ 

Mr McNulty concluded "At Education Committee this week I had a tetchy engagement with the Minister because I felt it was important he knows what is going on.  It is important he knows the feelings of everyone from the school bus driver, to the Principal to the parent to the assistant teacher.  I fully appreciate these are extraordinary times, but that calls for leadership and extraordinary support from our Minister which has been sadly lacking."

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