December 16, 2021
Christmas break is crucial opportunity to address mitigation measures in schools – Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD, has called on the Minister for Education to recognise the opportunity over the Christmas break to ensure children are returning to school buildings in January with all of the mitigation measures necessary to keep schools open and functioning well.

Speaking during Statements on Covid-19 in the Dáil this afternoon, Teachta Ó Laoghaire said:

“Keeping schools open and functioning well is vital. Now is our chance over the Christmas break, to get this right, to make sure that children are returning to school buildings in January with all of the mitigation measures necessary to allow schools to reopen and stay open.

“We need to be throwing the kitchen sink at this, and this hasn’t been the approach from Government so far. This is far too important to get wrong.

“HEPA filtration has a key role to play in our schools, and I am glad the Government are finally coming to acknowledge this. The way in which this has been announced however, under the cloak of the Minor Works Grant, is incredibly inefficient.

“Putting HEPA in competition with other desperately needed projects within a school is wrong, particularly so when school budgets are already overstretched with additional heating costs, and kids are freezing in their classrooms with the windows open.

“The work involved applying for the minor works grant is enormous for school principals. In the last week and a half of term, the Department of Education has dropped one final Christmas present of significant additional administration on the desks of school leaders, who are already under incredible pressure.

“The scientific jargon in the guidance documents provided by the Department is like another language. An expert in this area would know what to buy in a minute, but for principals this is taking up significant amounts of their time this week and will be into next.

“The least the Department could have done was provide access to expert advice and support for principals – stating in plain English what they need to buy and where they can buy it.

 “HEPA filtration would be much better centrally procured and then distributed by need. I don’t understand why the Department have not done this, and have instead shifted the administrative burden on school leaders who are already under incredible pressure. 

“The fact is, that schools’ ability to function well has been undermined, because principals are being pulled from pillar to post – with substitution, with HEPA filtration, and with contact tracing. 

“Contact tracing must be led by public health. In opposition, we fought for school-specific contact tracing teams. When these were secured, we could see that these were reasonably successful. 

“Then in September out of nowhere, and even though we were dealing with new variants, these teams were taken away, in fact any and all contact tracing was taken away. It is fair to say we are paying the price for that now. 

“When schools ring the HSE, they can’t get them, they can’t get a call back. The new plan for antigen testing passed the buck for contact tracing entirely onto principals and parents. 

“The school community feel as though they’ve been taken for fools, being asked to believe that transmission doesn’t occur in schools. 

“The Government cannot continue on the basis that schools are immune, but instead acknowledge that covid can enter schools, acknowledge that schools are incredibly important, and do everything in their power over this Christmas break to mitigate this.” 

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