As schools reopen, we must invest to ensure they can remain open safely - Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD has responded to the announcement of the phased return to in-class learning.
Teachta Ó Laoghaire said:
"Sinn Féin supports a return to in-class learning in a way that is safe, sustainable and in line with public health advice.
"It became very clear early in early January that case numbers were too high for schools to reopen fully. At the time, we pointed out that a phased return was likely to be necessary and that a return to the classroom for children with special educational needs should be the priority.
"The government eventually recognised this, however their handling of the reopening for many weeks now has been shambolic and I regret that very much. Parents, children and staff have been badly failed by this.
"I hope the Minister for Education has now done the necessary groundwork with key stakeholders and that the government is prepared to invest and put in place the measures necessary to ensure schools are kept open in a safe and sustainable way. We don't want to see another closure of schools.
"Last Autumn, Sinn Féin submitted proposals to government in this regard. Unfortunately, the government failed to act on a number of concerns we highlighted, although they have now recognised the validity of some of these issues. These delays and the constant dithering by government are causing unnecessary stress for students, school staff and families who are already under huge pressure.
"If the government is sincere in their efforts, solutions need to be found for numerous outstanding issues; there needs to be flexibility for high-risk staff, serial testing for school staff, radically improved contact tracing and the 40% cut in the grant for PPE/sanitising needs to be reversed.
"NIAC need to be asked to reconsider the vaccination priority list with regards to education staff and we need to see increased investment in ventilation monitoring in schools. If the government had done this over the Christmas break - as we advised - then we would be much better placed for reopening.
"We must also reflect on the pressure our system is under. I cannot understand why - in the middle of a pandemic - so little has been done to tackle class sizes. It has left us uniquely vulnerable in an international context.
"We also need flexibility for high risk staff and students. The government and Tusla need to recognise that many students and families will remain anxious about a return to schools. A common sense approach is required here; particularly for students and families with medical vulnerabilities.
"Teachta Ó Laoghaire has also highlighted the fact that many children with special educational needs are still awaiting a return to school:
"Children with special educational needs should be the first priority for a return to in-class supports. However, they have no date other than when their whole class is going back - which for some could be after Easter at the earliest - and that is simply not good enough. They have been forgotten again as far as I can see."