Brookes says Samuel’s proposal ‘no real solution’ for special needs kids | THE DAILY HERALD

Some Excellence Learning Academy pupils.

 PHILIPSBURG–Excellence Learning Academy (ELA) Director Alisha Brookes feels dejected after meeting with Minister of Education, Culture Youth and Sport (ECYS) Rodolphe Samuel on Monday regarding his proposed solution for the more-than-two-dozen special needs pupils who are in jeopardy at month end when the school closes its doors due to financial constraints.

  Someone who has been fighting for special needs pupils for half a decade, Brookes said Samuel’s proposal is not a real solution for the pupils. “His only solution is to move the students back into the mainstream schooling system and, if possible, take the staff also. However, there was no real solution after that for the students,” Brookes told The Daily Herald.

 The solution entails moving students into mainstream education at Prins Willem Alexander School (PWAS) and St. Maarten Vocational Training School. However, Prins Willem Alexander School does not admit pupils under the age of seven or eight and the children have to be potty-trained. A number of the Excellence Learning Academy pupils are not yet potty-trained, as this is a challenge for many special needs children, and some are under the age of eight.

  “So, some students from kindergarten will still have no placement,” she explained. “We spoke for about an hour, but in the end the solution doesn’t work for the majority of ELA kids and he mentioned there is assistance financially he can offer. I explained to the minister that it doesn’t work for the majority of our students.

  “I listed some of the challenges and explained the reason parents chose ELA and putting students back in mainstream doesn’t support the students’ wellbeing, but that’s all the ministry could propose, because there were no other places.”

  Another challenge with the proposed solution is that while SMVTS admits special-needs students, ELA’s students, like many special-needs children, are not able to function in such large settings.

  “I did remind him of the compulsory education law – that once they are [the age of – Ed.] four, potty trained or not, government needs to provide a space in education for the students,” Brookes stressed.

  She feels that the meeting was for publicity. “The meeting was a press matter for him, but still no plausible solution. While some students may function at PWAS, the majority won’t and the same goes for SMVTS.

  “It’s a sad situation that a school that is supposed to be a government responsibility was upheld by a citizen for five years and now a beg for help is being called, not much can be done,” she said. “I feel a lack of care and concern for the special-needs community as a whole. I see it all as a quick fix, but I still see a lack of progress in this area and I do feel some sort of dejection.”

  ELA is in a serious financial predicament. Brookes told this newspaper last week that the school had been keeping its head above water with the assistance of several sponsors and supporters, including St. Maarten Development Fund (SMDF) which provided a grant which covered the salaries of at least three teachers at the school. This significant assistance, which had been provided for two years, helped keep the school buoyant.

  Brookes said ELA was informed on December 29, 2022, via a letter dated December 22,2022, that SMDF, one of its key financiers, would be discontinuing its grant agreement effective immediately, due to discrepancies. The school, she said, had to remain compliant with the payment of all its taxes, but she said this was simply not possible, as the income the school received was not sufficient to cover all of its expenses.

  As a result of SMDF pulling its grant, the school was unable to cover all of its salaries in December. Brookes also spoke about her uphill battle to get assistance from government to no avail. She had met with various education ministers in the past and made presentations in Parliament to discuss pressing matters such as subsidy, financial assistance, location needs, and more, to no avail.

  Special education organisations, schools, and such facilities, she indicated, are in increasing demand, and having 30 students displaced will be a major challenge for the parents, the students, teachers, support staff, management team members, and the educational system.

  Brookes is seeking assistance. “I want to reach out to any businesses that might want support in the assistance of salaries for the staff, as this is also important for me. I would love to see the students be placed at a school or with an organisation that would keep them until the end of high school years,” she said.

  Anyone willing to assist can contact Brookes at tel. +1-721-550-7971.

Source: The Daily Herald