Belfast Telegraph

Outrage of special needs pupils after vandals cause £30k damage in 15 minutes of mayhem

By Lesley-Anne Mckeown

It took the vandals just 15 minutes to wreak havoc.

However, the impact of their mindless actions will stay with the pupils and staff at Knockevin Special School in Downpatrick for much longer.

School counsellors and community police officers had to be called in yesterday to help teachers try and make some sense of the wanton destruction for the 90 students — many of whom have complex medical and educational needs.

“Other children can adapt and understand why they cannot go to school for a particular reason but some of our pupils cannot understand so well,” school principal Ann Cooper told the Belfast Telegraph.

“They are also bound so much by routines and for some of them, especially children with autism, having different buses coming out could be very disruptive and upset them.

“Some of our seniors are very angry and are saying ‘how dare someone come in and damage our school’.

“We have tried to talk them through it.

“We have mutual development in school and they do know it was a bad thing that happened, that it was wrong and that the police have arrested someone. But, these children will mull over and worry about things.

“They need so much reassurance, both visual reassurance and emotional, and that is why we were so keen to get the school up and running.”

Extensive damage totalling about £30,000 was caused to a fleet of six specially-adapted buses which had been parked in front of the school at Racecourse Hill on the outskirts of the Co Down town.

Bus windows were smashed, steering columns wrecked, radios stolen and the burglars also tried to hotwire some of the vehicles.

Inside the school an essential physiotherapy room kitted out with costly rehabilitation equipment, a medical room and classroom were also ransacked when the thugs went on the rampage.

A plasma TV screen was ripped off the wall and dumped in a corridor while petty cash amounting to just £20 was also stolen.

“It’s hard to think of a motive for this,” added Mrs Cooper.

“When I came in and saw the buses I just thought: ‘Oh no’.

“The difficulty with our buses is that they are specially adapted to take wheelchairs and my initial thought was ‘how are we going to get the kids into school’.

“I was nearly petrified to go through the rest of the school to see what other damage was done. But, thankfully, we managed to get most of it cleared up in time for Monday morning. It was all hands on deck.”

The cost of repairing the damage will be met by the insurance held by the South Eastern Education and Library Board.

However, the £30,000 could have been put to much better use.

“Eventually it filters down to resources,” said Mrs Cooper.

“That’s £30,000 out of a budget that they (SEELB) had not planned. That would have been nice to spend on resources.

“We are working on a tight budget and you can only allocate so much to each class.

“Our equipment is so expensive. For example a seat for a particular child could cost £2,000 and that is specifically for one child — it cannot be adapted for another child.

“The people responsible for this just do not understand the needs of our pupils. They have no consideration at all.”

Knockevin takes pupils with severe learning difficulties aged between three and 19 years old.

Politicians across the board including South Down MP Margaret Ritchie have slammed those responsible for the attack.

A 23-year-old man has been charged with burglary, theft and criminal damage and is due to appear at Newtownards Magistrates Court.

Belfast Telegraph

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