independent

Monday 10 December 2018

Frustration for Christopher (13) as he remains without a school place

Christopher Karagiorgis with his parents Diane Paine and Dimitris Karagiorgis at home in Ashford
Christopher Karagiorgis with his parents Diane Paine and Dimitris Karagiorgis at home in Ashford

Myles Buchanan

A 13-year-old boy with autism and cerebral palsy has been left in limbo at the start of the new school year as the only school that could cater for his needs is already full.

Diane Payne and Dimitris Karagiorgis, from Nuns Cross, Ashford, have been looking at secondary schools for Christopher since before 2013.

However, Christopher now has no access to appropriate education, much to the frustration of his parents.

'It's a very stressful situation. The worst thing is that Christopher really wants to go to school. Even in the middle of the summer holidays he was talking about how much he misses school. We just want to get things right for him which will help him cope better later in life,' said Diane.

The family search for a secondary school for Christopher began shortly after he started attending the ASD unit at St Brigid's National School in Newtownmountkkennedy in 2010 when his level of physical, sensory and learning abilities began to be more apparent.

IN late 2013 both Christopher's therapists' team with Enable Ireland in Bray and with HSE Beechpark in Tallaght recommended Marino School in Bray as the most suitable secondary school for him to attend. The relevant assessment forms were submitted to support his application.

However, Marino School was unable to provide a place for Christopher and is already so oversubscribed it could actually accommodate two additional class rooms.

Efforts were also made to source other schools which could accommodate the needs of Christopher. Mainstream Secondary schools with ASD units were deemed inappropriate by his therapists. Discussions with Newcourt School in Bray were held in 2016 but it wasn't considered suitable.

Last year Diane and Dimitris visited St Catherine's School in Newcastle. While Christopher has mild to moderate learning disabilities with no behavioural problems, St Catherine's is geared more toward students with severe and profound learning disabilities. He would also lose out on services he receives.

'Both Enable Ireland Bray and HSE Beechpark services have confirmed in writing to us that Christopher would lose all these services if he moved to St Catherine's School. Christopher has a very long and successful relationship with Enable Ireland and HSE Beechpark and we are very happy with this support for him,' said Diane.

Setanta School in Stillorgan was also approached in the end of 2017. However, adaptations required to accommodate Christopher's disability wouldn't be completed by the time he was due to start. Also the bus journey to and from the school is over an hour and a half long and Christopher is partially incontinent and generally can only hold himself on a school bus for around an hour.

'It would have required him to revert back to wearing nappies, which would be a violation of his right to dignity and respect,' said Dimitris.

Home schooling with a tutor wouldn't be considered beneficial to Christopher's well-being and both parents feel their son has been badly let down.

'On the ground people are great but there is a real lack of coordination between educational and health services. The system needs to accommodate the child, not the other way around,' said Dimitris.

Christopher's parents, Enable Ireland and Beechpark remain convinced that Marino is the one local school that matches his physical, sensory and learning needs.

Diane said: 'We will consider proceeding with the appeal process, Section 29, to pursue further Christopher's placement there, as this is the only secondary school close to his home that best caters for his complex needs in a school setting'.

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