Mother terrified to send daughter back to school

By Maurice Garvey

A MOTHER of a severely asthmatic girl is too terrified to send her daughter back to school. 

Ava Biddulph (8) was due to start third class in St Michael’s Primary School in Ballyfermot last Thursday, August 27, but her mother Amanda Biddulph fears for the youngster’s health.

Amanda Buckley2 1

Amanda with her daughter Ava

Young Ava is on an extraordinary daily dose – 12 puffs of Ventolin every four hours, plus a steroid inhaler, a tablet at night and needs extra steroids orally throughout the year.

“12 puffs is a huge amount for a tiny 8-year-old and not something prescribed lightly,” said Amanda.

Amanda acknowledges kids need to go back to school, but for parents of children with underlying respiratory conditions, she feels it “has to be at a time that is safe.”

She cites more covid cases now than before schools were closed in March, and authority figures like Dr Ronan Glynn and Leo Varadkar warning that clusters are likely in schools.

Amanda has been in touch with the school and the Department of Education, but feels parents with high risk kids “have a gun to our heads.”

“I raised it with the school liason and was told I need a doctor’s letter, but my GP laughed, and said she was not signing it, this is a pandemic, all bets are off.

“If Ava gets sick who will pay her hospital bill? Me. Who will stay up all night ? Me. She would then be a statistic. I feel like the government are playing Russian roulette with our children.”

According to Dept guidelines, responsibility for pupils deemed ‘very high risk’ to receive appropriate support remains with each school.

St Michael’s, like other schools, have put an enormous effort into preparations for reopening, and created a new Covid-19 section on the school website with information and an extensive Q&A for parents.

Amanda understands it is not the school but the Dept that need to provide more clarity.

Tusla told The Echo they are aware some students will be absent for “legitimate Covid-19-related health reasons” and Tusla Education Support Service (TESS) will work with schools, students and their parents to support them as required.

Since March, Amanda has cocooned at her Clondalkin home with her kids Ava and Leo (9), who has autism.

“My husband went to work daily and I juggled home life like thousands of others and continued being a travel agent from my kitchen table,” she said.

“I didn’t see my family for months we had no outside visitors to our home. My parents are carers for the kids but couldn’t see them. We stuck by every rule set by government and NPHET. It was hard. My mental health suffered. I got out on a Thursday morning to shop and that was it.”

A major concern for Amanda, is the Dept told her that the Education Welfare Act requires an intervention with an education welfare officer, if a pupil misses more than 20 days in school.

“The Dept said schools cannot support children who do not go to school without a doctor's letter, but what do you do when your doctor won't assist you with that,” asked Amanda.

“It means by me not sending them to school, I am eating into the 20 days allowance.

"It needs to be kept for when they are sick.

"Last year Ava had Influenza A and chickenpox, that's 20 days right there.

"This is not good for my mental health. I’ve spent a lot of the time crying. This can't be a one size fits all scenario. These are unprecedented times.”

Amanda feels the “threat of Tusla looming over parents” has added to her anxiety.

“I am not a teacher, but I would happily go to prison for not sending my kids to school if it meant they were safe from Covid-19.

 “Home schooling is not an option as we both work full time, have a mortgage and I’m barely holding onto a job in the almost dead travel industry.

 “Keeping two metres apart has been the mantra we have all lived by but in the classroom it will be pods of six and one metre will do.

"As it stands, my kids will be exposed to 64 people.

"With all due respect, I don't know if families of the children in the class have been as diligent as my family has.”

Following discussions between the family and the school, an arrangement was reached which will see Ava homeschooled for two weeks.

This was dependent on a doctors letter, which deems Ava to be in the ‘high risk’ category.”

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