Special Needs Action Group Shocked By Minister Cortes' Answers

The Special Needs Action Group says it is both "shocked and pained" to hear the answers provided by the Minister for Education in Parliament yesterday.

A statement from Special Needs Action Group follows below: 

The Special Needs Action Group (“SNAG”) is both shocked and pained to see answers provided by the Honourable Minister for Education in Parliament where he described that the relationship with parents of St Martins School has “never been closer”. This is not the case, clearly reflected in the fact that distressed parents of Early Birds, St Martins School and the disability community at large came out in protest on the 26th of May 2021, just over two months ago. The relationship has therefore, arguably, never been more strained. The parents of these children are not happy, and they could not be more vocal about this. Claiming otherwise in parliament is a pure misconception! The discussions the Government are having with a hardworking group of mothers, who have elected themselves as representatives of St Martins does not reflect the entire opinion of the parents and the discontent felt by them, and this has been made known to the Government already, both privately and publicly. SNAG has proposed that the Government considers other groups in its discussions, including themselves, for a more representative discussion. It is also not a true reflection to allude to the perception that this school has been built with the considerations of the parents in mind, when most of the parents have not seen the plans of this school and are waiting to view it. 

SNAG also strongly believes that a true clarification of what went on in regards with the provisions and services afforded to these children during both COVID lockdowns must be made. Parents were very much left to fend for themselves with therapy halted, schooling halted, routines shattered and parks closed. Upon parents requests to access parks, the Governments advice was to access the park by the lighthouse giving little regard to accessibility and those with mobility issues. Furthermore, there were numerous occasions where parents faced issues with law enforcement agents when taking their children out to carry out their essential daily exercise. Proper provisions were only set up two weeks before the final Lockdown ended, leaving a lot to be desired for the care of this vulnerable group during the COVID pandemic. It is an insult to the families who struggled through this, to hear those who failed to provide claiming anything different. 

Although SNAG welcomes the opening of this new school, we remind the public that it is long overdue. These children have been schooled in Portable Cabins for years due to lack of space, with a school which left a lot to be desired for. Gibraltar has seen the building and refurbishment of many of its mainstream schools and these children have as always been left until one of the very last. Their needs made them need it the most urgently. We also remind the Government that at the time of writing, parents of children waiting to commence an Early Birds placement this September still await any news, and can not finalise any nursery matters as their children have again, as always, been left until last. It also welcomes the introduction of new therapy areas but reminds the Government that without the employment of additional therapists, to enhance the success of these initiatives, the children will continue to be failed by a service which offers them the bare minimum in terms of therapy provision. It all means very little without a proper Special Needs/Disability strategy to properly cater for these children and adults. 

Moving forward, SNAG hopes that the Government ceases in its attempts to use these divide and conquer tactics where it publicly announces to work with some groups, and ignores others, claiming that in doing so they are representing those with Special Needs and Disabilities. It would be far more useful for them to begin to work with wider groups and the newly formed Gibraltar Disability Rights Federation which is comprised of many groups affected by disability, to have truly representative discussions, in a clear and transparent manner.