‘We cannot lose this magical place’

Leanne Moore pictured with her son, Oran McCawille. (2503SL09) Photo: Stpehen Latimer
Leanne Moore pictured with her son, Oran McCawille. (2503SL09) Photo: Stpehen Latimer

A Limavady mum is among almost 20,000 people to have signed a petition appealing for Education Minister John O’Dowd not to close a specialist language unit for children.

The Woodlands Speech and Language in Derry unit is under threat because it is located within the grounds of a special needs school. The Western Education and Library Board said it should not be accessed by a child without a statement of special needs.

Limavady woman Leanne Moore was one of the delegation that travelled to Stormont to hand over a petition of 19,801 signatures to the Minister to stop the closure of Woodlands Language Unit and relocation of classes.

And last week she attended a meeting of Limavady Borough Council to hear the views of Councillors on the issue. SDLP Councillor Orla Beattie won unanimous support from fellow councillors for a motion calling on the Minister to intervene and secure the Centre of Excellence on the integrated Belmont House campus.

Leeanne told the Journal why the Unit needs to stay open.

“My son is Oran McCawille and he is six years-old and is currently a pupil at Woodlands language Unit,” she said. “We were first told of the closure of Woodlands a few weeks ago, on 6 thFebruary, and then we received a letter from the WELB on 18th February. We are very anxious to have a meeting with the WELB to express our concerns.

“The Board’s argument is that children who are not ‘statemented’ should not be taught by a Special Needs school, and that they are breaking the law by being on the campus of a Special Needs School.

“ This has been the legislation since 2005 and for some reason the WELB are now using this as the reason to close Woodlands. Yet, it was the WELB who recommended and gave my son his placement in Woodlands Language Unit in September 2010, when he failed to get a statement.”

Leeanne says her son, “like all children with speech and language problems”, works better in a one-on-one environment.

“They have an intense two years of education and support from teachers, classroom assistants, and speech therapists who are the key to getting the children ready to go back into mainstream education.

“If my son had not got a place in Woodlands, I would dread to think what would have become of him. He loves going to Woodlands and goes out smiling in the taxi and comes home smiling. I know that he is in a safe environment because of the excellent location of Woodlands.”

Leanne said her son’s experience at Woodlands is “magical”.

“The Christmas shows they put on are amazing, and every pupil is included,” she said. “Also, as a parent, the support we get is exceptional, and we even attend training days set up by the teachers to show us tasks we can do at home.”

“We hope as parents that the Minister will overturn the Board’s proposal. We are very determined and willing to fight our case no matter how long it may take. This is just not our children’s future, but further children who will need the service that only Woodlands Language Unit can provide,” she said. “Once again the WELB are attacking the vulnerable and those who can not speak for themselves.”