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‘Getting off the bus Thea waved then ran to her SNA whom she adores’ – it’s back to school joy for some pupils, ahead of wider re-opening in March

It was the first day back since before Christmas and, in the moment when she got off the school bus Thea Brennan’s lit up.

he eight-year-old had woken her parents, Marie and Lorcán, at 5.45am. in eager anticipation of the special day ahead.

Such was excitement that she couldn’t help but rub in her good fortune with her two siblings Fia (11) and Cillian (6), still waiting for confirmation of their return dates.

For Thea, going back to the classroom meant a welcome return to routine , including waiting to hear the school bus driver’s beep to let her know that he has arrived.

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Her mother Marie Breen drove to the school separately and was there when Thea alighted: “I wanted to see her getting off the bus. She waved at me, but ran by me to get to Gillian, her SNA, whom she adores”.

Meanwhile, Education Minister Norma Foley told the education partners that public health advice supports a wider re-opening of schools on a phased basis, from next Monday,

First back will be Leaving Cert students and pupils from junior infants, senior infants, first and second classes at primary level.

The Cabinet will sign off on the re-opening plan tomorrow and it is expected that it will be at least another two weeks before any more pupils go back.

Public health experts will monitor whether the public health risk has increased after the return of about 300,000 more students from next week, and that will determine the pace of the more general re-opening.

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Thea Brennan was one of 16 pupils from the three special classes at Lady of Good Counsel girls’ national school, Johnstown, Killiney, Co Dublin back in the classroom today.

Overall, more than 10,000 students in about 1,800 special classes in primary and primary schools, returned as part of the first stage of re-opening.

Thea’s principal, Caroline Quinn described it as “ A great day”.

Thea has autism and her mother, a deputy principal at a local second-level school , said the return to school was not only great day for Thea, but for the whole family.

“The family dynamic was greatly affected by Thea and other two kids being at home together all the time. For us as parents, it is really important that Thea has a strong bond with her siblings but that bond can be detrimentally affected by everyone living in each other’s space.”

The Covid lockdown and home schooling have put huge pressure on children with special needs and their families and sentiments expressed by Marie Breen are shared in thousands of homes around the country.

She said all the children have found it “really tough”. In normal circumstsances, they all have their own space and when Thea comes home from school , “her emotions are regulated because of being in school and they really have lovely time together”.

But in the first lockdown, Marie could see the impact the loss of school routine and support was having on Thea, to the point of regression.

“She started spending too much time in front of the screen, she was using one word sentences and lost some of her personal care skills.”

In the current lockdown “we are much more organised better”, but there have been challenges. “Killian might walk into a room and Thea might flip because she was watching television or listening to music. ”

A first step back to normality started today and Maria said Fia and Cillian “ will be delighted to see their sister coming home from school”.

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