Public special needs primary school ‘needed’

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A principal of one of the few private schools for children with special needs has suggested that Government create one to meet high demand.

Jennah Parris of Sunshine Early Stimulation Centre and John Payne School for Exceptional Children said: “I do think there needs to be another facility. On a daily basis, I can tell you in the first three weeks of school without exaggerating we had about 15 calls for referrals alone.

“Our challenge here is that usually, we do not have space opening in our primary department.  Our children from Sunshine graduate on to John Payne. We can accommodate children from two to four and it is very hard for us to accommodate those who are older so then we have to turn them back.

“There are only so many special schools and so many special classes within the Government setting that can accommodate children and then that is a case of if I have to go to a private school it is a cost as well as transportation.

“So, if it is something from a Government end then it would be most affordable for most students. We do scholarships here whether it is partial or full to make sure that our students can get here.”

The special needs educator has recommended  that a public special needs school be staffed by two teachers per class given the challenges of catering to special needs students.

“One teacher in a class with six or seven students with special needs or varying special needs is not easy,” she said.

Parris said a key feature of her school located in Country Road, St Michael is that it accepts children who are not potty trained. She added this to the qualities a state special needs school should have.

“We accept children who are not pottytrained. So you can be ten years old and not pottytrained and it is not a challenge here. In the government system, you cannot. Even if you have special needs and there is a medical reason why you cannot [go to the bathroom on your own] you have to provide someone who would come and change the child through the day because the Government system does not have someone who can do that,” she said.

Parris said she has noticed greater tolerance of children with special needs in recent years.

“We still do have a way to go in terms of where we need to be as it relates to special needs, but we can see that there are things happening just as Rock Your Socks for World Down Syndrome Day.

“Definitely, there is that level of awareness and a lot more being done, and we hope it continues and we see a wider integration of children with special needs.

“Even if you look at Massy Distribution, they have persons with special needs, so we see business places open doors slowly for persons with special needs.”

The principal urged that children with special needs should not be segregated in society.

But she said: “I am very aware of what it takes to have an integrated school that is done the right way.

“It means additional staff and resources. I do think that we need to do more but there needs to be more groundwork done before we can reach that point. But I do think there is more that we can do.”

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