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30 Nov 2021

'Flagrant discrimination' - Anger as special classes 'excluded' from new self-isolation rules

'Flagrant discrimination' - Anger as special classes 'excluded' from new self-isolation rules

'Flagrant discrimination' - Anger as special classes 'excluded' from new self-isolation rules

AsIAm, Ireland’s National Autism Charity, has condemned the Department of Education’s decision to exclude students in special classes and schools from the easing of Covid-19 close contact guidelines. 

These were announced on Wednesday as part of changes to the current test and trace policies for students under the age of 12, who will no longer need to restrict movements if deemed a close contact in childcare and educational settings.

However, this easing of the current policy does not apply to special education classes and schools, who must continue the practice next week when the changes are introduced for all others in these settings.

Under the new rules, asymptomatic young people in primary schools will be able to continue to attend school, without the need for an automatic Covid-19 test or self-isolating. This is due to the high levels of vaccination and recent data showing that schools are low-risk environments for the transmission of Covid-19.

However, students with the greatest level of need in the education system - whose educational and support needs have often increased greatly during the pandemic - will face discrimination in having to remain at home in these circumstances even though many of these children are in small groups, in larger classrooms and have no underlying health conditions, according to AsIAm.

Responding to the announcement, AsIAm CEO, Adam Harris said: “We are deeply concerned by the flagrant discrimination in the new rules which take effect next Monday. Throughout the pandemic, the Department has consistently recognised that children with additional needs have suffered greatly and have lost out on learning opportunities due to being unable to engage in learning at home.

“This decision will lead to our community disproportionately losing out on teaching and learning at a critical time. What is of particular concern is the lack of evidence to support the decision. When the State chooses to treat people differently it must demonstrate a credible rationale for why this is necessary and act with surgical precision in terms of implementation. In this instance, the State is telling thousands of children, with little or no underlying health conditions, that they cannot go to school if they are a close contact simply because of their diagnosis and educational placement. It is impossible to see this as anything other than a breach of the Equal Status Act.

“This undermines decades of campaigning to end the shameful history of stigma and discrimination towards disability in this country. The Department’s decision gives licence to unsubstantiated scaremongering which has been directed towards disabled people throughout the pandemic. It is particularly shocking that whilst consultation took place with union officials on this issue, once again disability organisations were not consulted or notified in advance - despite a previous commitment to a forum on the matter.

“We are calling on the Minister for Special Education and Inclusion to take urgent action to engage with our representative groups and scrap this discriminatory unfair measure. The playing field must be levelled here.”

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