West Sussex councillor apologises after referring to children with special needs as ‘backward’

The council chamber at County Hall, Chichester. Credit: LDRS

A West Sussex councillor has issued a public apology after referring to children with special needs as ‘backward’ during an online meeting.

Dr James Walsh, leader of Arun District Council, was taking part in an online discussion on Wednesday (April 22) about plans to close two of the county’s small schools.

One – Clapham & Patching, in Worthing – has a high number of children with special needs.

While appealing to the county council to look at the possible academisation of the school with Worthing High,  he referred to the youngsters as ‘educationally slightly backward’.

Nothing was said about his words during the meeting, but Dr Walsh posted an apology on the Arun District Matters Facebook page later that afternoon, saying it was ‘a slip of the tongue’.

He said:

“I was flustered as the door bell had just gone, and I was speaking off the cuff, and it just slipped out.

“I did not mean to belittle anyone, and I wish it had not happened, so I apologise to anyone and everybody I may have inadvertently upset.

“It is not my manner or style, and if I could I would withdraw it.”

While some were happy to accept the apology, others on social media called his words ‘absolutely disgusting’ and ‘an unforgivable error’.

There was also a suggestion that he visit local special schools to discuss special educational needs with the people on the ‘front line’.

(By Karen Dunn – Local Democracy Reporter)

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