Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire has said that news that special schools and units will reopen to a 50% capacity on February 11th is welcome but there is a need for clarification on many issues.
Speaking this evening, Teachta Ó Laoghaire said:
“Sinn Féin has been clear in saying that special education is priority number one, and we have been very clear with the Minister in this regard.
“Government mishandling of this situation last month has been to the detriment of staff, families, and particularly the children themselves.
“Failing to consult and attempts to announce plans not fully agreed were very significant mistakes, which government has to take responsibility for.
“But what is most important now is that government puts in measures to ensure the safety of all staff and children.
“These children were among those who lost out the most in the last lockdown. It is essential that they get in school support, particularly when remote working is not effective for so many.
“I hope the government has their homework done this time, and that this has been agreed with all the key stakeholders before proceeding.
“The detail of this will be important. Families will want to know in what way 50% attendance will work, and what supports will be available to them when children are not in school.
“They will also want to know how school transport will work, and when full attendance will return.
“Staff will be keen to know what measures are being put in place to ensure they are kept safe, that vulnerable and high risk staff are given flexibility, and whether there will be additional investment in measures such as PPE, reversing the 40% cut, and in items such as surgical masks.
“We all know children are better off in the classroom. I look forward to the date when all children can return. I hope that can happen at the earliest date that public health advice suggests is safe, but a great deal of work needs to be done in advance of that.
“We need to ensure that safety measures for schools are improved, and that we get communication right.
“Schools are undoubtedly the best place to learn and Sinn Féin will support a return as soon as possible, provided it is agreed and safe.”