PHILIPSBURG–Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport (ECYS) Rodolphe Samuel says the draft special education needs (SNE) policy should be ready for a final decision by September.
He announced this during Parliament’s Committee of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport Affairs (CECYSA) meeting on Monday, May 10. Samuel was present to update Members of Parliament (MPs) on the current status of the special education needs policy being developed by the Department of Education.
In his opening statements Samuel said that strides have been made in the development of policies, the revision of curricula and ordinances within the ministry.
In his presentation he noted that the policy is not yet finalised, but he provided an update on the working draft of the SNE policy. Samuel said that as the policy is still a working draft, he would not go into details regarding its content.
He presented the foundations that shaped the development of the draft policy, including insight into the fundamental principles, the working definition of special needs education, considerations related to the delivery of special needs education, and the tentative timeline for the delivery of the final draft of the policy.
Samuel established an SNE work group to provide data to guide the creation of the SNE policy and insight into how special education should be structured in St. Maarten. The work group consisted of experts in the field of education, curriculum development, special education, psychology and social work.
The SNE work group published a report on special needs education in St. Maarten and submitted operational standards for SNE in St. Maarten.
Samuel said the working draft of the policy defines SNE as a type of education that addresses all students’ individual differences and needs. It is a service the enables each child to operate on the highest level according to that child’s individual abilities and talents in the least restrictive environment possible.
The working draft of the policy was finalised in January of this year. It was shared with internal stakeholders in the ECYS Ministry in February. The policy will be updated based on feedback received from those stakeholders.
Samuel said consultations will be held with external stakeholders this month. The working draft will be finalised based on those consultations and is expected to be presented for decision-making by September of this year.
Following Samuel’s presentation, MPs posed questions to the minister.
National Alliance (NA) MP Solange Duncan asked how great a priority special needs education is for him and the ministry. She further questioned where pupils are preparing for high school who have special education needs will go. She alluded to her niece who is just two years away from graduating primary school. Currently, Prins Willem-Alexander School (PWAS) is the only special needs school in St. Maarten.
“A major decision … needs to be made now as it concerns the St. Maarten Vocation Training School (SMVTS). If the students from PWAS cannot go there … what do our children do after PWAS?” Duncan asked.
She further asked Samuel whether he intends to expand PWAS to provide more education, and, if so, has there been an assessment of the current curriculum, and what are the needs of the pupils currently attending PWAS.
Duncan also asked whether the ministry intends to create a special needs law. She said the policy will make a difference, but that there is need for law.
NA MP Angelique Romou expressed her disappointment that the “essence” of the policy, what the policy deals with and what it will look like in practice could not be shared during the meeting.
She asked the minister to clarify exactly what the special needs policy will cover. “Will it cover physical, emotional, behavioural, learning disabilities and impairments?” she questioned. “In practice, what would this special need policy mean for education and students?” She noted that from the presentation she did not get a sense of what the implementation will mean for special needs students.
She asked the minister to share how the special needs education policy addresses students’ physical disabilities.
“When I look around I see a lot of schools that neglect potential needs of children that may be physically disabled; for example, a child who is in need of a wheelchair. Which schools on the island can accommodate these needs of these children? Will this policy address it and will this be taken into consideration for the building of future schools, such as the rebuilding of Prins William-Alexander School?” she asked.
Other questions included: How is this policy addressing secondary education for special needs students? Will the policy (formulise) the need for an official secondary education stream for our special needs students?
The meeting was adjourned to allow the minister and his support staff time to answer the questions posed by all MPs.
Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/samuel-special-education-needs-policy-expected-by-september