December 6, 2021
Department of Education u-turn welcome, but Minister must step up and support school leaders – Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD has said that the Department of Education’s u-turn on its guidance on mask wearing that may have led to the exclusion of children is welcome, but that many issues and questions must be resolved.

Speaking this morning, he warned that the Department must urgently move on contact tracing and filtration, to ensure that schools can remain open and functioning well.

Teachta Ó Laoghaire said:

“I am glad that the Department of Education have revised its guidance. There never should have been talk of excluding any child from their education and the language of confrontation didn’t make sense

“Parents want schools to be safe. Schools want children to be in school and to work with parents. Cooperation should have been the order of the day. I am glad the Department have belatedly seen that.

“It is incredibly disrespectful that yet again this guidance which is for the attention of principals was in the media before school leaders themselves received it. That is not good enough

“Even with these revisions, principals have to manage the implementation of this mask wearing policy, on top of contact tracing, running the school, and handling substitution issues.

“I am also concerned that issues facing children who are hard of hearing have still not been adequately addressed. We all know that visors are nowhere near as effective as face masks; we have been calling on the Minister for Education to provide funding for clear face masks for classes where there is a child who is hard of hearing.

“If the government are serious about keeping schools open and crucially functioning well, then every action they take must be in furtherance of that aim; it can’t be all about face masks alone.

“Now more than ever, it is essential that we bring back school-specific public health contact tracing teams, that school leaders are properly supported and are not being left to do the HSE’s job.

“HEPA filtration is also a no-brainer. The European Centre for Disease Control, the WHO, and the government’s own Expert Group on Ventilation, have all said that HEPA filtration has a key role to play in keeping schools open and functioning well.

“The Department need to act urgently here, I am worried that children could be returning to school after Christmas break and there will still be no HEPA filtration.

“Our schools are far too important to get this wrong – no effort should be spared.”

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