Tyrone mum speaks out on fight with Education Authority over ‘special needs’ son

Sinead Hanna with her three-year-old son Shane. She has been fighting for special school nursery place for him since February
Sinead Hanna with her three-year-old son Shane. She has been fighting for special school nursery place for him since February
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A Tyrone mum has been left despairing at the Education Authority’s refusal to allocate a free place at Sperrinview to her ‘special needs’ son.

Sinead Hanna, whose three-year-old son Shane has Rubinstein Taybi Syndrome, said she first requested a place at nursery for her little boy in February.

In different circumstances, she said Shane - who was born just 11 days after the cut off date for a one year place - would have been given a two-year place at mainstream school.

But because he has special needs, she said mainstream school is not an option and that he has been refused a two-year nursery placement at Sperrinview - even though there are “three empty places”.

The Clonoe woman said Shane was put forward for nursery after an assessment by educational psychologists at the child development clinic in Dungannon.

But since February she has been unsuccessful in getting him started.

A smile from little Shane has been diagnosed with Rubenstein Taybi Syndrome

A smile from little Shane has been diagnosed with Rubenstein Taybi Syndrome

Now, she said the Education Authority says Shane must be statemented, despite being told in February it was not needed.

“I feel that people think my son’s not worth educating,” Mrs Hanna said.

“Other children without special needs, they need two year’s nursery - so why does Shane not?”

In March, it was revealed that the Education Authority planned to cut hours for pupils at special school nurseries - a move that was criticised by then Education Minister John O’Dowd, who ordered a review.

I feel that people think my son’s not worth educating. Other children without special needs, they need two years nursery - so why does Shane not?

Sinead Hanna, Shane’s mum

Speaking about the statement released this week about the review of special school arrangements, Sinead added: “That’s for next year and that still leaves my son in limbo - he’s a lost child, he’s just forgotten about.

“Shane needs to be in school now - deserves to be in school now.

“He should be able to access a place that’s available - there’s three but they won’t let him have it.

“The Education Authority has taken a decision not to provide two-year nursery placements to children with special needs, but they are supplying two-year nursery placements in mainstream schools - that is my main issue.”

Shane's condition means he doesn't sleep, speak and has vision impairment. Sinead said she is realistic about his condition and his limitations, but just wants him to be the best he can be

Shane's condition means he doesn't sleep, speak and has vision impairment. Sinead said she is realistic about his condition and his limitations, but just wants him to be the best he can be

A spokesperson for the Education Authority said they won’t talk about specific cases, but did admit there are places available at Sperrinview and that they have received a complaint from a parent.

“Special schools are unlike mainstream schools and do not operate open enrolment,” they said.

“Children can only be placed in a special school following an assessment of need by EA and in accordance with the DE guidance as set out in the Code of Practice on the Identification and Assessment of Children with Special Educational Needs.

“These assessments continue throughout the year and EA must ensure that sufficient places are available to accommodate children who are identified as requiring a placement later in the year.”

We asked if this rule had recently been introduced, but had received no answer at the time of publishing.

They then went on to say: “Priority must be given to children of the appropriate age. Sperrinview has a small number of available places. It is anticipated that these places will be filled throughout the course of the year.”

Sinead told us that Shane is second place on the waiting list for Sperrinview despite being older than the first place child - although she doesn’t mind as “their need is greater”.

“I am very realistic about Shane’s condition and the limitations it puts on him,” she added.

“He is not going anywhere else - he is going to be in Sperrinview for a long time. I just want him to be the best he can possibly be - to reach his full potential.”