Special schools appeal for help
By Julien Neaves Thursday, August 15 2013
FOUNDER and principal of special children school Agape Training Centre, Joan La Croix, has appealed to the Education Ministry to assist them as their school was on the verge of closing down and 85 students would be displaced.
“Please Ministry of Education, help us,” she said.
She made the plea on Tuesday at a stakeholder meeting on special needs hosted by the Education Ministry held at the Capital Plaza Hotel, Port of Spain.
She said the main problem for the 17 year-old school is financing, as they moved from a $3,000 per month rent to a location of $10,000 per month; the school spent eight years at 10 Cocorite Street, Arima and in September 2008 moved to the corner of Pro-Queen and Malabar Road. La Croix also noted because of the re-registration their grant from the ministry was cut.
She said that other schools refuse to take children and parents tell her “you are our only hope”. She noted that they currently have 25 students on their waiting list.
La Croix was one of about 150 attendees who voiced complaints and gave suggestions about the issue of special needs children. Barbara Alleyne, CEO and principal of Goodwill Industries, lamented that “months and terms go by” and they do not get any money disbursed.
“Give us money on time so we don’t have to be begging,” she said.
She called for the Education Ministry to treat them with more respect. She also criticised doctors who were giving children with disabilities drugs to make them “zombies”.
Alisha Pacheco, a parent of a child with cerebral palsy, called for the policies for disabled to be enshrined in law so people can have redress when their rights are “trampled on”. She called for more special education teachers and for them to be hired full time and not on contract.
Kessa Pascal, who is blind and a representative from the Ministry of People, questioned who was monitoring parents who keep their special needs children away from schools for months at a time. She also pointed out that most public special schools were not operating to capacity, she knew of one with just 20 children, and they needed to be properly staffed.
She also suggested education programmes for the parents and sexuality programmes for the children. She also called for a “hard approach” to abuse of people with disabilities, noting that many people turn a blind eye to it.
Linguistics lecturer at the University of the West Indies Dr Benjamin Brathwaite, representing the We Care Deaf Support Network, noted that screening for deafness is usually done late and interventions insufficient. He stressed that deaf children need to learn sign language as soon as possible and the general school population needed to be educated about all groups with disabilities.
Sharon Burke-Bess of Caribbean ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) Support Group said the greatest complaint from parents is that the students cannot stay in schools because the teachers verbally abuse and call them names. She noted that when they try to apply for services from the Social Development Ministry they are turned away because ADHD is not classified as a “disability”.
Education Minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh said he and two of his Cabinet colleagues, Minister of the People and Social Development Dr Glenn Ramadharsingh and Minister of Gender, Youth and Child Development Marlene Coudray, have been mandated by Cabinet and the Prime Minister to develop a national comprehensive policy related to special needs of children. He noted this will be the basis of the way forward.