Disabled children denied equal access to education

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Commissioner for Children’s rights Despo Michaelidou has criticised the Education Ministry’s attempts to play down claims by parents of disabled students that their children were being denied equal access.

Organised groups representing the interests of pupils with disabilities and learning difficulties have claimed the ministry is dragging its feet in supporting their children.

The issue arose after it was revealed that some 400 students are denied properly trained school chaperones, as the ministry takes too long to review applications by parents.

Siding with the parents, the Commissioner told CyBC that “inclusive education is the core of democracy”, adding that parents are right to protest.

“The right to inclusive education includes the right to equal participation of children with disabilities at all levels of the school environment and is non-negotiable, according to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) ratified by the Republic in 2011,” said Michaelidou.

She said that Cyprus does not, however, implement the suggestions of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Education Ministry seeks to invest in special schools when they should exist, as they promote segregation.

“Instead of having an inclusive and integrated school system, the Education Ministry reinforces the notion of special education and sends children with disabilities to other places”.

In response to criticism, the Education Ministry said that nobody could know how many children are currently without an escort.

The ministry said: “Some 400 cases are being evaluated by authorities, while another 1,000 have been evaluated, pending discussion and approval.

“So, it is impossible that a journalist – or anyone else for that matter- could know the number of children denied a chaperone”.

The ministry said it would cover the cost of chaperones for cases it deems necessary.

The Commissioner for Children’s rights questioned why the ministry had been still looking into applications since mid-October, well into the school year.

“They’re still looking at applications mid-October. So why weren’t they evaluated earlier? What got in their way? The holiday season, maybe?” questioned Michaelidou.

Earlier this week, Parents staged a protest outside the Education Ministry, with organisers vowing to step up measures if a solution is not found.