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Department of Education needs to get a grip on plans to reopen schools - Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD

1 July, 2020 - by Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD

DonnchadhSinn Féin spokesperson on Education Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire has urged the new Minister for Education Norma Foley to make up for lost time and get a grip on plans to reopen schools.

The Cork South Central TD was responding to the publication by the Department of Education of advice given to it by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre.

Speaking this evening, Teachta Ó Laoghaire said: "The Department of Education is at sea when it comes to the plan to reopen schools. Our schools shut their doors almost four months ago, but the department only started looking at this about four weeks ago. Confusion has grown ever since. 

"Over the course of one weekend at the end of May, the government's position shifted from blended learning to a full return to schools, and then back again to not every student attending.

"On June 12th, Minister Joe McHugh outlined what schools would look like in the instance of 1m or 2m social distancing, but said that the Government would not be pursuing this.

"During all this time, schools were operating in a vacuum for planning, and parents left entirely uncertain, and it was only two weeks before that the Department began 'preliminary meetings' with stakeholders.

"The former Minister outlined to the public, parents, children and teachers what the destination was, without any roadmap outlining how we were to get there.

"Now the picture is changing again, and it seems that if this advice is followed by the Department, then not every child will be back every day.

"This is a complete contradiction of the department's position up until now and creates even more confusion. It is making it impossible for parents to plan or for schools to prepare.

"Everyone accepts that there is a public health emergency and that elements of advice will change as our understanding of the virus improves.

"Parents understand the realities and do not expect absolute certainty, but they do expect some clarity.

"The approach to reopening schools should be based on outlining what the approach will be in a number of different scenarios depending on the success of containing Covid-19, and what the arrangements and best public health practice should be in each of those instances.

"We also need confirmation that any additional costs to schools will be carried by the Department. That includes hygiene, cleaning, refuse and additional equipment. Under no circumstances should any costs be borne by schools or passed on to parents who are under enough pressure.

"There is a roadmap for the economy. We have been seeking and were promised a roadmap for a return to education weeks ago, but it seems to have fallen completely off the agenda.

"The new Minister needs to make this a priority and should publish the roadmap as soon as possible."

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