The privately funded Áthas School located in Kiltimagh, which is the only specialised school in Mayo which caters for children diagnosed with an autism disorder, through using applied behaviour analytic services, has implemented cuts across all its staffing hours.
Officially opened in September 2008, the school, which is self-financed and is currently renting its building from IRD Kiltimagh, relies heavily on local fundraising.
When contacted by the Mayo Advertiser, director of education, Shannon Eidman denied any suggestion of the closure of the school, however, she said that there have been reductions in staffing hours to ensure the future maintenance of the school. Ms Eidman said that there are now seven part-time and two full-time staff who look after four full-time students and a number of other students who access afterschool services. The school’s director of education said that additional financial support from the public is constantly needed to ensure the continuation of the school.
The recently publicised Seven Day Croagh Patrick Challenge has greatly assisted in raising funds for the school, and according to one of the organisers of the challenge, Pat Kearns, he is “devastated” to hear of a reduction in hours, especially after last month’s fundraising challenge as 90 per cent of money raised is intended to go towards the school.
Mr Kearns said that the school, “which is a unique model”, as “other counties are crying out for a similar school”, has “benefited students incredibly”. The charity fundraiser said that it hurts him to know that there has been a diminishing of anything in the school, as the main aim of the Croagh Patrick Challenge is to keep the school open.
Enda Hiney, chairperson of the Mayo Autism Action Group, said that money raised this year for the school from the Seven Day Challenge seems to be a decreased figure than from last year, therefore by cutting back staffing hours now the school will be able to keep functioning.
Mr Hiney explained that the school is an applicant school for Government funding, funding which according to Mr Hiney has been handed out on the east side of the country more than the west. He criticised the fact that the school is employing highly skilled and trained staff and keeping them off the dole but is receiving no funding from Government.
Mayo TD John O’Mahony said that the future of the school, which has already “been neglected by the Government”, is something which he is “very concerned about”. Deputy O’Mahony said that he is well aware of parents who have consistently fundraised to ensure the continuation of the school and he said it would be “a very sad day” if the school’s future is threatened.