Fianna Fáil Councillor, Frankie Keena, has lauded the work of the Autism Parents Athlone group following confirmation that an additional needs class will open in Athlone Community College on February 20.
“As I welcome the announcement that an additional needs class will be opened in Athlone Community College on February 20, I wish to praise the ongoing work of the Autism Parents Athlone group led by Claire Earley on their campaign to highlight the lack of adequate school places in primary and secondary schools sectors in Athlone for children with autism and additional needs. I recall participating in their awareness protest march through Athlone last year which received a warm reception from the public,” Cllr Keena said.
Ongoing discussions, led by school principal, Ms Eileen Donohoe, and the Longford Westmeath Education and Training Board (LWETB ) took place over the last couple of years with the NCSE (National Council for Special Education ) and the Department of Education, to ensure the delivery of the additional needs class in Athlone Community College.
“As Chairman of the Board of Athlone Community College, I am delighted with the recent announcement of an opening date for this class which has been a long time coming. I would like to thank the principal Eileen Donohoe, my fellow Board of Management and the LWETB for all the work in making this happen.
“This class will be located in the main campus and a mainstream class will be relocated to a new standalone modular build classroom. This approach will help with the integration of the students into the daily activities of a busy school and at the same time addressing their relevant needs. The internal structure of the classroom will be adapted to suit the needs of the enrolled students.
“Enrolment for this class which will cater for six students, took place late last year and it is important to note that there is still a demand for more places so this issue must also be addressed.
“Athlone Community College plans to provide a total of four such classes in time within the school campus which will require a new extension to cater for same.
While this is further welcome news, I do feel that fellow secondary schools and primary schools within the locality need to provide similar facilities. At the end of the day parents and children are entitled to have a choice and to source a school with the necessary facilities near where they live.
“It is completely unfair on parents travelling long distances to find a school that suits their needs due to the lack of such education places locally. To me, this is a form of discrimination against such children and it needs to be corrected as soon as possible,” Cllr Keena concluded.