Four Dublin primary schools have reacted with fury after they were publicly named by the Department of Education as schools unwilling to open classes for children with special educational needs.

They said comments made about them by Minister of State for Special Education Josepha Madigan on RTÉ's Saturday with Katie Hannon programme are "not true".

Ms Madigan had said that the decision to name the schools had been made because they were "not engaging at all" with the department and were "just ignoring correspondence".

The four schools said the minister's assertions are not true and that they have been misrepresented.

Expressing great upset and anger, all four schools have detailed emails and phone calls to and from the Department of Education up to as late as last Thursday.

One school says its facilitated a site meeting by Department inspectors on Wednesday.

The schools said they do not have the proper facilities to open a class for children with special needs this coming September, or they have expressed concern around a lack of proper resourcing.

On Saturday, teachers and principals criticised the Government for naming four schools which the Department of Education claims are not engaging on providing spaces for children with special needs.

Ms Madigan defended the decision to put the "spotlight" on the four Dublin primary schools.

She said the schools "had not been forthcoming in opening special classes in specific circumstances where we know that they have capacity".

The Government had written to 14 schools to get them to provide places for special education.

Ten of the schools are engaging with the Department of Education but officials said they had not secured agreement with the other four schools which are named on its website.

Ms Madigan said that the next stage would be to use legal action to compel some schools to take children with special needs.

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Principal of Scoil Bride Boys School in Blanchardstown Seamus Sullivan said they wrote to the National Council of Special Education in February and March outlining why it could not open an additional class this coming September.

The school already has one dedicated special needs class with one teacher and three Special Needs Assistants (SNAs).

Mr Sullivan said however that due to the complex and challenging needs of the students in that class the school had to transfer another special needs teacher away from working with children in mainstream classes and into the special class.

"We have intense pressure on the system. We are under pressure resource-wise", said Mr Sullivan, explaining why the school was unhappy to open a second class.

Taking issue with the minister’s statement that there had been no engagement and that correspondence was "being ignored", Mr Sullivan detailed a series of emails send between the school and the department last week up until Thursday.

"We are a highly inclusive and very diverse school", he said. "It is very frustrating to be portrayed in that light when we have every reason not to be in a position to proceed and have been asking for those concerns to be addressed".

Principal of St John of God’s National School in Artane Aoife McNicholas said "we have reams of correspondence with the department," and expressing great anger at the minister’s comments, said, "we have had full engagement up until Wednesday of last week".

Ms McNicholas said an inspector from the Department of Education carried out a site inspection at the school last Wednesday. She said the school is on course to open two special classes in 2023 following building works.

Ms McNicholas said a room identified by the department last week as suitable to accommodate a special class for this coming September had previously been dismissed by the National Council for Special Education as unsuitable.

The room houses the school's computer network which emits electronic noise. It also has no toilets.

"This is political footballing at its worst", she said, "it is a hatchet job".

Describing the efforts her disadvantaged DEIS Band One school went to to support its pupils with special needs Ms McNicholas said: "We fight so hard for our children, but we have pupils with disabilities who have been waiting for four years to be seen".

'Minister is misinformed'

The principal of St Gabriel’s National School, another DEIS Band One named by the department, said the school is "very upset and very disappointed".

"It is just completely untrue. The minister is misinformed. We have been engaging with the NCSE and the department all year in a positive manner and we are due to open a special class in 2023", said Suzanne Comerford.

The school already has one special class for children with disabilities.

She said she was in email contact with the department as late as last Wednesday night. Describing her school building as "really old", Ms Comerford said the space identified for a special class by the department very recently is not suitable and needs to be renovated before it could be used.

"It sounds like they just want us to throw children into a room", she said.

Martin Stynes of Scoil Fhursa on Cromcastle Green in Kilmore West has a similar story. He too said the school has been misrepresented and is "very upset".

"It is not true that our school has ignored correspondence. We have indicated our willingness to open a special class".

He said the department’s proposal was that they partition an existing classroom to create space for a special needs class. But the school believes it needs a purpose-built extension.

This school too is a disadvantaged DEIS Band One school. "The spin is completely wrong," Mr Stynes said.

"We are a very inclusive school. We have six special education teachers. We wouldn’t have that level if we were not inclusive."

'Gross disrespect'

Earlier, the CEO of the Irish Primary Principals' Network criticised the publication of the list.

Páiric Clerkin said the assumption is that the schools have not proactively engaged with the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) in planning for appropriate placement of children with special educational needs, and this is not the case.

Many of the schools already have one or more special classes, he pointed out, and are engaged in an ongoing basis with the NCSE.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, he said: "It's gross disrespect for school principals, for boards of management, and indeed for our most vulnerable children who have special education needs."

He said that schools are being given two months to prepare for students when they should be given "closer to two years".

The IPPN wants everyone to have an equal opportunity to attend their local school, he said, and the revised admissions timetable is working well for most children but "unfortunately it's not working for children with complex educational needs".

Mr Clerkin said the IPPN will work with its stakeholders to ensure that every child has a place in school, but insisted that proper planning lead-in times are needed.

"Our education system is based on collaboration. All of the stakeholders work together," he added.

Mr Clerkin said that everything will be done to ensure that vulnerable children have a place to go in September.