18 May 2022

High Court row over special needs children's bid for extra schooling resolved

High Court row over special needs children's bid for extra schooling resolved

High Court row over special needs children's bid for extra schooling resolved

Two High Court actions over the Minister for Education's refusal to allow two young children with complex educational needs to attend school during the summer holidays have been settled.  

The actions were taken on behalf of two primary school children, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, who both have various educational and social needs. 

As a result of an agreement reached between the parties, the children at the centre of the action will receive extra schooling under a special scheme operated by the Minister for Education known as the July Provision Scheme. 

The children have been attending mainstream schools. In order to ensure that they did not regress over the long summer holidays, their families attempted to enrol them in the July Provision Scheme. 

Under the scheme, the minister provides funding for children that are accepted into this scheme for tuition during the month of July, which is delivered either at their homes or at certain recognised schools. 

The applications were refused on the grounds that the children did not have the specific diagnosis of an Autism Spectrum Disorder or a severe or profound general learning disability. According to the scheme's guidelines, only children with those diagnoses are eligible for inclusion in the scheme. 

The families had claimed that the decisions not to include them in 2019 scheme was irrational, unreasonable and is in breach of the children's rights under the European Convention on Human Rights. They also claimed the refusals, given the children's needs, were contrary to the 1998 Education Act.   

The families sought orders quashing the minister's decisions declining to enrol the children into the July Provision Scheme. 

At the High Court on Wednesday, Nuala Butler SC instructed by lawyers for the Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC) for the parents said both cases had been settled with an agreed order for costs. 

Counsel said that the department had agreed to make a payment equivalent to the sum paid to families who qualify for home-based July Provision under the current scheme. Counsel added that funds could be used for tuition at home or to access some other suitable scheme and the families would receive the payment before July of each year and until the children had reached the age of 18. 

It had been further agreed that payment would continue as long as the July Provision Scheme does and if it was abolished the families would have the right to apply to any new scheme.

Mr Justice Seamus Noonan, who had previously granted the family permission to bring the challenges, said he was delighted there was a settlement as it would have been difficult for the case to have been dealt with before July. He told parents involved in both cases, who were in court, it would have been a shame if the children had lost out on another year of the course. He said their lawyers had done a very good job for them and the minister had, in fairness, met the case very well in terms of the settlement.  

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