The Ministry of Education's head office on St Vincent Street, Port-of-Spain.

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Founder of Support Autism T&T, Dr Radica Mahase, has taken newly-appointed Minister of Education Dr Nyan Gadsy-Dolly to task for not including special needs children in her rollout plans for the new school term next month.

Gadsby-Dolly rolled out the plan for the new academic year under COVID-19 restrictions during a press conference in Port-of-Spain yesterday.

Essentially, that plan entailed an online approach to teaching all students across the education system, with teachers being asked to pick up duty from next week to plan to start teaching their charges from September 7.

However, Mahase said she was disappointed that the new minister had failed to highlight any fixed ways in which children with special needs would be educated in the upcoming term.

“We hope that this is not a sign that the education of children with special needs will continue to be neglected,” Mahase told Guardian Media.

“We are calling on the minister to hold a consultation for NGOs advocating for special needs inclusion to discuss ways to move forward. We reiterate that every single child with special needs deserves to have equal access to education and we hope that equal consideration will be given to them.”

Mahase, who founded the group in 2014 after her autistic nephew Rahul failed to get adequate support from within the education system, said she was hopeful that the new Government will consider the needs of autistic children.

“It is very sad that the minister did not even acknowledge students with special needs in her address. For the most part, children with special needs do not have equal access to education opportunities here in Trinidad and Tobago and for the minister to give a press conference and not even mention this part of the student population doesn’t look too good,” Mahase added.

She noted that in the pre-COVID-19 period children with special needs were already marginalised.

“We simply should not use COVID-19 restrictions to continue this negative trend. I would like the minister to meet with NGOs and other stakeholders so that we can discuss and devise a more structured, a practical approach to helping our special children while we are under COVID-19 restrictions,” she said.

“Children with special needs are citizens of this country and the Ministry of Education needs to make sure that every single child has equal access to an education.”

Rebecca ???, whose child is also autistic, said she too was disappointed.

“The provisions for special needs kids was mentioned only after the question was raised. This made me feel as though special needs kids were not even considered in this term. The minster broad-brushed a frail response that still left us wondering what is in place for our special needs kids? I do hope now that the minister is aware special needs kids exist, she will update the strategy and speak directly to it,” Rebecca said.