Teachers, workers and administrators are having a hard time enforcing adherence to Covid-19 protocols among learners with special needs.
Handlers of learners with mental impairment are the most affected, as it emerges that special schools are struggling harder to keep pupils safe than other institutions of learning.
The worst nightmare in these institutions is ensuring social distancing is observed and that there is proper wearing of face masks by the learners, some of whom have underlying medical conditions that make them more susceptible to Covid-19.
Learners with physical impairment also need extra help to access hand-washing points.
A spot check by the Nation across the country revealed that many parents have not taken their children with special needs back to school, fearing the institutions have not adequately prepared to protect them from the coronavirus.
Teachers reported that learners with autism and cerebral palsy, among other similar conditions, are facing serious challenges, especially after being away from school for close to a year.
The teachers especially have to work harder to train the learners on how to wear face masks properly, wash hands regularly and observe social distance.
Learners with hearing impairment, who largely depend on lip reading and sign language, have challenges in communication as the government has not provided transparent face masks as earlier promised.
Only 150 out of the 311 learners at Nile Road Special School in Nairobi have reported back.
The headteacher, Phanice Musima, told the Nation that some parents have been calling to seek assurance that measures have been put in place to protect the learners from Covid-19.
Ms Musima said that social distancing and wearing of face masks are the main challenges, with the teachers having to constantly remind the learners to mask up.
“Those who drool cannot totally cover their mouths and noses with face masks,” she said, adding that most of the learners who are yet to report back are boarders.
The school on Monday received 70 desks from the Ministry of Education under the economic stimulus package for schools.
The institution has also received 100 desks and chairs from the National Fund for the Disabled.
They are also in the process of converting an old dining hall building into a dormitory to enhance social distancing.
At BL-Tezza Special School in Nyatike, Migori County, only 45 pupils of the total 100 had reported back by Tuesday.
“We have challenges teaching the learners and often prefer total communication that involves lip reading and gestures. The pandemic has compelled us to alter our mode operation,” the head of the school said.
At Bomet Primary School for the Physically Challenged, several hand-washing points have been set up to cater for the children, who have to be helped to use the facilities.
Desks in classrooms have been spaced at 1.5 metres, with cleanliness in the sanitary facilities improved as compared to previous years.
“In line with social distancing, beds have been spread in the hostels as is required and we are satisfied with the progress made so far in most of the institutions handling children living with various challenges in the county,” said Bomet County Director of Education Mabale Indiatsi.
In Kakamega County, learners at Arise and Shine Special Needs School in Mumias East Sub-County have been given face masks. Water points and hand-washing soap have also been donated by a local politician. The school has also received desks from the Ministry of Education.
“The main challenge is that some of them are mentally impaired and don’t understand what wearing a face mask is all about. But the teachers are monitoring them closely to ensure they are all masked up,” said Ms Aresa Adhiambo, a parent with a child at Matungu Special Needs School.
Joyland Special School in Kisumu has set up water points for hand washing.
A teacher at the school said pupils have been provided with disposable face masks.
Teachers revealed the increased number of learners, as a result of transfers from private to public schools, had made supervision harder.
“One teacher is expected to handle a maximum of 14 pupils, but currently they are handling more than 20, which compromises coronavirus protocols,” a teacher who requested not to be named said.
In Nandi County, the principal of Kapsabet (Secondary) School for the Deaf, Ms Rose Yugi, said students with disabilities face unique challenges.
“While we are supposed to accommodate 15 to 18, we have 34 students in Form One, 45 in Form Three, 26 in Form Two and 28 students in Form Four,” Ms Yugi said.
The 167 learners at Mindililwo Primary School for Autistic and Mentally Challenged in Elgeyo Marakwet County are unable to cope with the coronavirus measures.
“The learners are used to hugging and not wearing face masks and they are now faced with the uphill task of coping with the new health measures,” Ms Jane Kiplagat, the school head, said.
She said more needs to be done in terms of Covid-19 containment protocols, adding that it is very hard to get learners to take care of themselves.
State Department for Agricultural Research Principal Secretary Hamadi Boga said the Kenya Institute of Special Education (Kise) will develop guidelines to help children with special education needs learn effectively.
At Ole Sankale Primary School SNE Centre in Narok County, a tank has been centrally placed to provide clean running water and sanitiser booths erected at the entrance. The County director of education, Ms Jane Njogu, revealed assessment in all SNEs is going on to make sure the learners are taken care of and to make sure they will not mix with others.
At Kwanjiku Special School in Laikipia West, the head teacher, Ms Beth Nyaga, noted that the school has 78 children living with disabilities on its admission waiting list.
“Due to limited resources and facilities, we can only admit up to 20 children at any one time,” she said, adding that there are three teachers handling the 20 pupils who have already reported.
At Seneiya Special School in Samburu, the principal, Mr Peter Sendeu, said it is increasingly becoming difficult to explain the Covid-19 guidelines to the children because of lack of facilities. Most learners, he added, do not grasp the need for guidelines.
In Nyandarua, special schools have recorded a low turnout in the second term, with some institutions reporting up to 50 per cent drop-out cases.
The chair of an organisation bringing together persons with disabilities in the county, Mr Godwin Mugo, said despite the low turnout, the schools have a challenge adhering to Covid-19 protocols and also lack the personal protective equipment.
Reporting by David Muchunguh, Ian Byron, Derick Luvega, Vitalis Kimutai, Shaban Makokha, George Odiwuor, Elizabeth Ojina, Reginah Kinogu, Titus Ominde, Gerald Bwisa, Evans Kipkura, Barnabas Bii, Lucy Mkanyika, George Sayagie, Steve Njuguna, Geoffrey Ondieki and Waikwa Maina