Parents and teachers are furious about staffing cuts that will leave children with behavioural problems, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), without support in the classroom.
A cap of 10,575 is being put on the number of special needs assistants (SNAs) in schools, which means 227 of the 10,802 existing posts will disappear this year, while 475 will be held in reserve and allocated as needs arise.
It is a cost-cutting move brought on by the EU/IMF bailout and follows a value-for-money review that found that some SNAs were engaged in duties beyond what was originally envisaged.
The Department of Education has now announced new criteria for the allocation of an SNA, whose role is to help children with care needs, including toileting, mobility, feeding and challenging behaviour.
The new rules will give priority to children such as those in special schools, and those who are incontinent.
However, there will be no allocation of SNAs for junior infants classrooms where behaviour is cited as an issue, other than in cases of well documented extremely challenging or dangerous behaviour.
The department has defended the changes and said it was working with the school psychologists' service, NEPS, to develop guidelines.
Edel Shaw of the Special Needs Parents Association said removing support would impact both on the child and on the rest of the class.
She said if such children were deemed not to need an SNA, then the department had to come up with another post to fill that gap. "There will be a missing link," she said.
The Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) called for the decision to be reviewed.
"When a child with special needs does not have those needs met in junior infants, every child starting school is affected," said an INTO spokesperson.
The INTO said SNAs should be appointed where needed in infant classes.
"These could be reviewed after two years, at the end of the infant cycle and any recommendations made by NEPS taken into account."
The union was critical of the comment by the department that schools will not have had much experience of the children's behaviour.
"Schools have been dealing with behaviour problems for years and know what is needed. They should not have to wait until the education of all children is affected before the department is willing to act."
The Catholic Primary School Managers Association said it did not want the threshold for challenging behaviour set so high that a child who needed support was left without it.
Ferdia Kelly of the secondary school managers' body, JMB, said it hoped that any child who required an SNA would receive it so that they could get as full an education as possible.