New Minister for Education's priority should be resolving back to school uncertainty, not constituency kudos - Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD has said that the current uncertainty and confusion regarding the return to school is intolerable and causing enormous anxiety.
He has called on the new Minister for Education Norma Foley to focus on what is a state-wide crisis that requires immediate action to allay the fears of students, parents and teachers.
Speaking today, Teachta Ó Laoghaire said: "I have been inundated with questions from parents and school staff who are beside themselves with stress and anxiety.
"This because the Department of Education, more so than any other department, has created unprecedented uncertainty by pivoting from one position to the next, flying kits and changing with the wind.
"At the same time, much of the new minister's initial commentary seems to be focused on issues in her constituency.
"While I appreciate absolutely that the minister represents a constituency as well, her primary responsibility, particularly at a time like this, should be the children, parents and school staff all across the state. Well over a million people are effected by this and are awaiting some sort of a plan.
"It is her duty to produce a roadmap for the full return to education. If we can have a roadmap for the economy, why can we not have a roadmap for education?
"I have been calling for this for months now. We were promised it in early June and there is still no sign of it. It seems to have fallen off the agenda completely. The Department of Education is all over the place on this; their position has now changed radically from what Minister McHugh announced on June 12th.
"Our schools shut their doors almost four months ago, but the department only started looking at this about four weeks ago. Confusion has snowballed since. How can parents or schools make any preparations when they are being kept in the dark by the department?
"The objective has to be a full and safe return to school; that is an objective shared by the vast majority of parents and schools. We all accept 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 get a grip on this as it is becoming a fiasco.
"She needs to clear the decks. Right now she should be focused on this, and on nothing else. She must prioritise and publish the roadmap as soon as possible."