With the announcement that Maltese schools will be reopening in September, parents of children with disabilities have been left in a state of limbo without clear guidelines.
“I have three children, two of whom have disabilities – one with ADHD and the other with down syndrome, autism and ADHD,” Rebecca, a concerned parent, told Lovin Malta. “What I want to know is, if schools are reopening in September, what help is being offered for people in our situation?”
Last month, Education Minister Owen Bonnici said that Malta’s scholastic year is set to open on September 28th – but recently published guidelines leave open the possibility of schools lessons continuing online.
The Education Minister’s comments were made during a period where Malta had a mere handful of coronavirus cases.
Since then, the country has experienced a spike in cases resulting in 16 new active COVID-19 cases today.
“During the pandemic, I tried to teach three kids, two of whom have behavioural issues. For children with disabilities, a routine is important. They don’t understand why they have to stay at home and can’t go out and meet their friends,” she said.
In Rebecca’s case, the issue is one of government irresponsibility by allowing mass events to happen while she and her family are forced inside to protect their young ones from exposure to the virus.
“The best scenario for us is that the mass gatherings will stop and the airport is monitored,” she said.
As such, the situation has become dire for the family who has had no choice but to enter into a self-imposed lockdown until the virus is over.
And going from three cases to over 200 in a matter of weeks has broken the spirits of the family.
“We’re exhausted. Socialising is important for everyone, but unfortunately vulnerable people are getting affected the most. My son hasn’t been out since March,” she said.
With the COVID-19 pandemic still ongoing, parents are appealing for more guidance on what measures are going to be put in place now that schools are set to reopen.
“We need guidance on exactly what’s going to happen. We need to prepare mentally and physically for the routes we have to take.”
With parents having major concerns over whether their vulnerable children will be protected, some are fearing the repercussions of keeping children at home… whether they receive online education or not.
“We need to keep in mind that certain students who have a Learning Support Educator to support them, need to have physical contact, therefore, this might result in an obstacle,” said Commissioner for the Rights of Persons with Disability Oliver Scicluna.
When it comes to reintroducing children into a school environment, there are many caveats that need to be addressed before a child can walk school halls again.
“There are certain students who have sensory issues which will not be able to understand certain procedures in the health and safety protocols such as social distancing, hand sanitisation, etc. These students need to have a structure so that they are able to adapt to a much-needed empowering lifestyle,” he said.
For parents of children with disabilities, ruling out physical learning is not an option – but a ‘one-shoe-fits-all’ proposal won’t work either.
“This system will eventually fail these students, therefore if schools will not open, safe spaces for children who didn’t benefit from online learning should be provided. LSEs, teachers and other working parents of children with disabilities should be kept in mind when plans are being drafted,” she said.
“It is very important that protocols should start to be communicated as soon as possible so that these uncertainties will not create additional stress to these families,” Scicluna ended.