Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD, has called on the Minister for Education to provide clear information on close contacts and Covid data in schools.
Speaking from the Dáil this evening during questions with the Minister for Education, Teachta Ó Laoghaire said:
“Keeping the virus out of schools and keeping schools open necessarily means dealing with Covid cases swiftly within the schools as soon as they arise.
“I was glad to hear that there will be school-specific contact tracing teams introduced. This is something Sinn Féin sought and we have long believed that effective contact tracing is crucial to keeping schools open safely.
“However, we need much greater clarity and engagement now on the criteria these teams will be working off. School staff and students have been in touch who are extremely concerned that they have not been deemed a close contact, even though they have been in close proximity to a Covid-positive student in the classroom.
“I am also concerned at instances where a child of school age isn’t considered a close contact of a case in their class, and subsequently test positive, that they wrongly will not be considered as having contracted Covid in the school setting.
“We need better communication between the HSE and schools. I have heard of good support, but other instances less so.
“The HSE must ensure the data from outside school, affecting school children, is part of decision making relating to schools. I appreciate there are balances to be struck here.
“Perhaps the roll book can be inspected to understand who is attending on a day. There is scope here under regulation 11 of the infectious diseases regulations 1981, and art 9.2 i of the GDPR, and that in light of the overarching objective of public health, I believe for some discretion to allow better communication between HSE and school. I know this would have helped in certain cases.
“There is also the issue that where there are multiple cases in a family, there seems to have been a change in policy that a child can return to school after their self-isolation period is concluded, even where a child in the household has Covid confirmed and is still self-isolating. It has caused confusion in some cases.
“But as well as better communication locally, we need more from the Department.
“Nearly 3 months ago now, I wrote to the Minister to ask that she take part in periodic public health briefings, akin to those attended on a semi-regular basis by your other Cabinet colleagues.
“I asked if the Minister would use this forum to reflect on the overall picture of Covid19 in schools, provide assurances to students, staff and parents, and give updates on what was being done to address the issues outlined. I am still awaiting a response on this.
“We are simply not hearing enough on what is happening in schools in terms of the bigger picture. Within that vacuum of information, rumours will abound.
“I know the Minister must be aware of various discussions on social media. That is inevitable, when there isn’t enough communication from the centre, and parents and school staff feel they aren’t getting the full picture.”