Parents of children who attend Rossmar in Limavady have formed a new group in support of the school and each other.
The idea has been around for a while, but plans for a new school - starting in November 2016 - have proved to be the push needed to form Parents and Friends of Rossmar.
Rossmar Principal Brian McLaughlin said: “I’m delighted as this is something we have been thinking about for some time. It will address the social and educational needs of the pupils when they’re not at school.”
Parent Jill Graham, whose five-year-old son Joel attends Rossmar, said it was about supporting the school and making sure children had access to the same opportunities as other children during school holidays.
For example, take the summer holidays, said Mr McLaughlin.
Rossmar runs a 10-day summer scheme, said Mr McLaughlin, “but there is virtually nothing else for kids with additional needs during the summer”.
“That’s 10 days out of 56,” said Mr McLaughlin. “If parents go to access services, in terms of social-based activities, it’s in Coleraine or Derry. Here, provision is remarkably missing. It is an equality.”
Kerry Robinson’s daughter Niamh (7) attends Rossmar. She said: “We nearly dread the holidays because Niamh misses her friends and her routine.”
Tammy Cartin, whose 14-year-old son, Michael, attends Rossmar, said: “It takes me to one o’clock on a Saturday for Michael to realise it’s Saturday and he is not going to school.”
Take swimming, for example, said parent Jill Graham, whose son Joel (5) attends Rossmar. She said it was difficult as lessons were usually offered during a mainstream session, which was not practical and, if parents were offered individual sessions, they were at awkward times.
“Parents of children with additional needs feel isolated. This is about the power of the collective voice. We trust our school and we want the school to have the best opportunities and facilities, and we want our children to have the best opportunities and, so, part of our role will also be fundraising,” said Jill.
Mum Beth Witherow said Rossmar students were missing out.
“Take simple things like the cinema. Simple events turn out to be very stressful events. One of the group’s aims is also to raise awareness out there. I am my child’s voice and, if I don’t speak for him, nobody will,” said Kerry Manning.
Principal McLaughlin added: “This group is long overdue, especially now when we look at a new beginning.”
The group is open to the whole community, not just those whose children attend Rossmar, or children who have a specific need. With children from as far away as Ballymoney and Portrush attending Rossmar School, parents hopes the group will attract strong support.
“The school plays a big part in the community, and we want people to take that on board. It really is an open door,” said Jill.
For information contact Rossmar or see the group’s Facebook page.
In the meantime, plans are moving ahead for the new build.
A spokesperson for the Department of Education said: “Rossmar Special School was included in the DE Minister’s announcement in June 2012. The project has an approved Business Case in place at a total project cost of £9.2million. The RIBA Stage 3 design was approved by the Department in February 2016 and the project has an estimated start date on site of November 2016.”