Education Minister Prodromos Prodromou addressed anew on Wednesday the backlash that followed an announcement on May 20 that children with disabilities were not to return to school with their primary and lower secondary school peers on May 21 saying that there was no intention to discriminate against them when decisions were taken and regretted any confusion potentially caused under the pressure of procedures.
Speaking to the press following a meeting of the House Standing Committee on Education on the issue of return to school of children with disabilities attending school with adult assistants and those attending Special Education, Prodromou emphasised that the Ministry’s intention is for all children to go back to school.
He said that he explained to attendees at today’s meeting, that included the Children’s Rights Commissioner, health ministry officials, the federation of parents associations for children with disabilities (Posygopea), teachers unions Oelmek, Oltek and Poed and a health expert from the advisory team on Coronavirus, that there was pressure in putting emergency procedures in place as within a few days health protocols and training seminars needed to be prepared “and the right decisions needed to be taken in collaboration with the Health Ministry to ensure safety.”
“I also said that I am sorry if under this pressure, the dates, the processes, some families and children may have received different information or became unsettled,” he added, noting that what is most important is to go back to school under conditions of safety.
“It would have been discriminatory if we did not have in place the same health standards for all children. This is what we tried to avoid by ensuring the implementation of health protocols for all children, teachers and adult assistants that will accompany children in schools,” Prodromou said.
He said that in essence, no official decision has been taken specifically on the return of children with disabilities as the special committee of experts that has been put together to look into the children individually and advise whether they are in a position to go back to class is just now processing the list. Therefore, he says, on this basis, no decision equals no discrimination.
“The Health Ministry has taken no decision specifically for disabled children. This isn’t true. The decisions taken did not concern disabled children but a much larger number of children. This is evidenced by the fact that shortly thereafter it was decided that 769 children with school assistants could go back without the involvement of any medical committee to give the go-ahead. Besides, the fact that all school assistants were present and ready at the schools on day one shows that the Ministry did not discriminate nor exclude.
“This means that the initial decisions concerned all of these children and of course with no intention of discriminating. In practice, the Special Committee comprising of doctors that has been put together as per guidelines received by the Health Ministry and advice by its team of experts is now in a position to examine all of the cases and children can go back to school. Already on Monday it handled all the cases presented to it,” he said.
Prodromou went on to address parents of children with disabilities and called on them to collaborate with the Committee.
“We ask parents together with their children’s doctors to work together with the Special Committee, also comprising doctors, to find the right solutions so that children can go back to school,” he said, adding that the experts are ready, if needed, to educate children and adult assistants for the return to class.