The perennial issue of meeting the needs of students requiring school assistants has resurfaced as the new school year begins. This matter came to the forefront following the case of Marios Christodoulides, a first-grade student at Aradippou High School. Marios, who faces the challenges of cerebral palsy (spastic diplegia), received a solution to his family's request for an exclusive escort after the intervention of AKEL Larnaca MP Andreas Pasiourtidis and widespread media coverage on September 26th. However, similar cases like Marios's persist in other schools across Cyprus, as conversations with concerned individuals reveal.
The depth of the school assistant problem is well-known to the government and is expected to be a focal point in the upcoming Special Education dialogue commencing on October 2nd. The Minister of Education, Athena Michaelidou, has extended invitations to all relevant institutions to gather their input. President Nikos Christodoulides himself will inaugurate this dialogue, emphasizing the government's commitment to finding solutions. Regarding timelines, Minister Michaelidou stated that the discussions on Special Education, including school attendants and considerations regarding their profiles and compensation, will conclude by May 2024, aiming to implement new measures in the following school year (2023 - 2024).
The Current Challenge: Two Escorts for Twelve Children with 200 Awaiting Answers
Pavlos Mylonas, Chairman of the Education Committee of the Parliament, highlighted the annual struggle to meet the demand for school attendants. He pointed to a specific case in Limassol, where three escorts were assigned to assist 13 children. However, one child was deemed to require an exclusive escort, leaving two escorts to tend to the needs of the remaining 12 children. Mylonas questioned whether this approach truly serves the educational needs of these children. MP Andreas Pasiourtidis from AKEL expressed concern about the prioritization of students in the recent decision to hire 90 school attendants. He emphasized the importance of ensuring that every child who needs an exclusive school escort is guaranteed one, estimating that there are approximately 200 such children.
President Christodoulides will inaugurate the Special Education dialogue on October 2nd.
Legislation Yet to Be Applied
According to Mylonas, the persisting problem arises from the Ministry of Education's failure to implement legislation passed by the Parliament in 2022. This legislation aimed to change the assessment process for children requiring escorts and the determination of the number of students per escort, with input from specialized doctors on a case-by-case basis. Mylonas stressed the urgency of forming these committees, as envisioned in the legislation, to involve medical experts in decision-making, particularly for cases involving neurological, psychiatric, or motor issues. Minister Michaelidou mentioned that the implementation of legislation on new committees is pending but suggested that changes are being considered to streamline the process. These changes, coupled with the Special Education dialogue starting next Monday and concluding in May 2024, should pave the way for the operation of new committees in the next school year.
Minister Michaelidou refuted claims that requests for exclusive escorts were not fulfilled due to budget constraints. However, Mylonas questioned whether the budget prioritizes development spending, such as public universities, over the needs of children and the populace. Pasiourtidis emphasized that financial obstacles should not hinder fulfilling the needs of children requiring exclusive school escorts, citing the efforts made by Marios's family over the past 4-5 years.
Addressing a Flawed Process
Minister Michaelidou pointed out that the current legislation allows requests for school attendants to be made at any time, making immediate responses unfeasible. The forthcoming legislation, subject to dialogue beginning next week, aims to require the Ministry to be informed about children's needs from the previous school year. This proactive approach aims to ensure that the new school year begins in September with school attendants in place. The minister acknowledged that not all requests for school attendants are justified but assured that the Ministry takes each case seriously.
[This article was translated from its Greek original]