HALF of all pupils in special needs education are being kept at home even though their schools remain open.
While mainstream settings are closed to most pupils, special schools continue to operate.
The assembly education committee was told yesterday that many parents remained concerned about sending their children to school.
Minister Peter Weir has said staff in special schools who are supporting children with the most complex healthcare needs will be offered the Covid-19 vaccine.
This followed an announcement that pupils would receive weekly asymptomatic testing.
Ricky Irwin from the Department of Education told the committee that attendance in special schools was encouraged but not mandatory.
Many schools are operating with a reduced pupil:teacher ratio, he said.
"Approximately 50 per cent of parents whose children attend special schools have chosen to keep their children at home due to concerns about the impact of the virus and the rapidly changing environment," he said.
"This has further reduced the number of children in special schools during these challenging times.
"The executive's decision to keep special schools open was informed by the experience of many families who earlier in the pandemic suffered when access to schools was restricted."