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Special needs children left behind

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“We also want to afford our children an opportunity to get an education.”

PARENTS of children with special needs have accused the Northern Cape Department of Education of giving them the short end of the stick when it comes to the needs of their children.

A parent of an autistic child said yesterday that she had to once again keep her child at home as the bus which normally transports her child to school was being utilised by the department.

The parent said that her child attends school at Jannie Brink Special School and the school usually “borrows” a bus from the department to transport the children.

The angry parent said that this has happened numerous times.

“The school usually borrows the bus from the department to transport the pupils. However, our children have to remain home on days when the department wants to transport its officials somewhere.

“My child is autistic and she does not understand when the order of her day changes. She sticks to a strict schedule and unlike other children does not understand when things do not follow the usual routine. It has happened many times before that we are only informed in the morning, after the children are already dressed for school, that we will have to keep them at home because there is no transport to pick them up.”

She added that although the department states that every child should get an education, they make it seem like it is a “luxury” and not a right for children living with disabilities.

“When you have a special needs child who is attending school it is seen as if it is a luxury. Children are encouraged to attend school but that message is edited when it comes to special needs children. We also want to afford our children an opportunity to get an education.”

Other parents of special needs children, who are also facing challenges with pupil transportation, said they believe that mainstream schools are prioritised.

“The needs of children in the mainstream schooling system are always prioritised. Special needs schools get whatever is left over after the needs of mainstream schools are attended to. This is not fair and sending the wrong message to all pupils, even the able-bodied pupils.”

Northern Cape Department of Education spokesperson Geoffrey van der Merwe said that the department will incorporate pupil transport for special needs schools in the next financial year.

“The Northern Cape Department of Education can confirm that with the recent migration of pupil transport to the Northern Cape Department of Education, the administration of pupil transport for special schools has not been included in this function. The department is considering incorporating special schools pupil transport during the next financial year after all due processes have been followed,” said Van der Merwe.

“The department was approached by special schools to assist with the running costs of vehicles owned by special schools as the allocated funding for services was deemed inadequate. An additional allocation of approximately 50% of the total vehicle running costs incurred by special schools has been provided by the department since 2011 as a relief to augment the services allocation.

“We are working towards a provincial specific model to address the shortcomings of special schools in order to provide a safe and reliable transport service.”