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School closures must be accompanied by an ambitious plan to reopen safely and sustainably - Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD

5 January, 2021 - by Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD has said that any announcement to close schools must be accompanied by an ambitious plan to reopen safely and sustainably when it is safe to do so. In a letter to the Minister for Education today, he has set out a number of steps that must be taken to ensure that happens.

Teachta Ó Laoghaire:

"In-school learning is the best form of education and is in the best interests of children.

"However, there comes a point at which the rate of Covid-19 infection is so widespread that it isn't possible to ensure that schools can operate on a safe and sustainable basis. That is the situation we face at present.

"There is an urgent need to bring clarity to the situation for school staff, for students and for parents. We also need clarity from the Minister regarding educational supports for the children of frontline workers and for children with special educational needs. We should make every effort to minimise disruption and should consider exemptions for special schools and some form of in-school support.

"We also need to ensure that this period is as brief as possible, and that we can return to the classroom as normal as soon as possible.

"To deliver that, we need firstly to bring community transmission down quickly. However, we need to see a number of actions implemented urgently.

"I have written to the Minster today calling on her to ensure that:

  • There is a reversal to the 40% decrease in the PPE budget for schools
  • All SNAs have access to surgical grade masks
  • There is serial testing amongst education staff
  • A system for supporting schools where large numbers of staff are absent connected to the virus needs to be implemented
  • There is an extension of supply panels
  • Discussions between HSE and Department of Education and the National Immunisation Advisory Committee programme need to take place to see if school staff can be considered for level 6 given the importance of their role
  • We need to ensure that there is a remote learning working option available for those at high risk when schools return

"We also need a clearer picture of where the virus is at and to do this we need NPHET to report on new strains of the virus relative to school going population prior to schools reopening. We also need to see significant improvements to the system for school contact tracing and increased resources for school contact tracing teams.

"An announcement to close schools cannot be made without a comprehensive plan to ensure all of this is delivered. This is vital to ensure that schools can open safely and sustainably."

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