Parents’ joy as jobs saved at Hope Academy
A last-minute rethink has saved temporary public service posts after parents said that their children with special needs would be put at risk by cutbacks to Government-provided therapy services.
Parents of students at Dame Marjorie Bean Hope Academy, which caters to those with physical and cognitive challenges, voiced concerns over cost-saving measures that would have resulted in an essential speech language pathologist leaving the school on Thursday.
“Our son and 20 other children at the Hope Academy do not have any full-time therapist in the school, and are not able to receive the dedicated therapeutic service that they all need to thrive,” one parent said, in a statement also shared with Education Minister Wayne Scott.
“Our son and other children will begin to regress and no longer thrive if this issue is not resolved expediently.”
The non-renewal of temporary posts was part of a cost-saving arrangement across Government, in accordance with measures agreed with the unions.
As of April 1, the school sought to eliminate up to three temporary positions — and the posts remain unfilled under Government's hiring freeze. News of the cuts prompted an alarmed reaction from parents.
Jose Lopez, of the Friends of Hope Academy group, confirmed this week that talks were under way between the school's parent-teacher association and Government about saving at least two of the jobs.
“The PTA has had some good talks with the Government but it still needs to be advised that the third position — the speech and language pathologist — is also key,” he said.
“We recognise how hard it is to balance everything, but it's more the bureaucracy that needs to go and not key roles.” A Ministry of Health spokesman confirmed yesterday that eleventh-hour discussions had salvaged the jobs — news that prompted Mr Lopez to “give credit where credit is due”.
The spokesman said that the ministry had received approval from Cabinet and the Ministry of Finance to extend the jobs for speech language therapist and on-call physiotherapist positions. The on-call physiotherapist is set to return on April 13, while the speech language therapist is due to be back on April 20, pending temporary work permit approval.
“As indicated to the PTA president, these matters are taken very seriously by the Ministry of Health, Seniors and Environment and the Ministry of Education,” the spokesman said.
“The welfare of the students is paramount as we attempt to strike the appropriate balance between those needs and fiscal management.
“The ministry has apologised for the time this has taken and for any angst this has caused the parents of the students concerned.”
The potential gravity of the situation, at least in the eyes of parents, was clear from the account sent to Mr Scott and copied to The Royal Gazette.
The couple who contacted us said their seven-year-old son had been beset with “complex medical issues” — but had progressed “tremendously” under a concerted regimen of therapeutic services provided at the school. Originally unable to sit, walk or stand, he can now sit independently, and has progressed to using a walker.
The speech language pathologist assisted with basic speaking, sign language, as well as use of hearing aids.
The family said their son would require three hours of one-on-one therapy per week to “maintain a significant progress schedule without regression”. Such assistance could not be delivered by the travelling occupational therapist who works three days a week and could offer 45 minutes of one-on-one therapy at a time.
“It is the collective efforts of the disciplines working together that have produced the constant progress as seen in the example of our son,” the parents said.
“We are certain that this progress cannot be achieved by having drop-in therapists, because of the lack of consistency and familiarity with each child's individual needs.”