Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire has called on government to use the extra time afforded by the extension of school holidays to January 11 to bring clarity to parents, teachers and students as to how schools can reopen safely and to deliver a roadmap to do so.
Speaking today, Teachta Ó Laoghaire said:
“We are in a very serious situation with the third wave of Covid-19 and the extension of school holidays announced today must be used to bring clarity and assurances to parents, teachers and pupils.
“We need to use the next 12 days to do all we can to try to address very significant concerns, and plan for a safe reopening.
“We need a clear roadmap for them to reopen too – parents will fear that we will see a repeat of the first lockdown, which saw school buildings close for months.
“But schools are places of work and staff deserve protection. The virus is at a very high level in the community. There are fears that the new variant of the virus is more transmissible among children. We need to hear the public health advice on this.
“Minister Foley needs to demonstrate how she will address these concerns and outline her plan and criteria for reopening schools.
“We have sought a meeting with Minister Foley in the coming days to discuss these issues. Throughout the pandemic, the opposition has always sought to work together with government and to provide solutions to protect the education of our children. But government must engage with us in turn.
“Sinn Féin supported the reopening of schools in autumn, but we made it clear to the Minister at the time what we believed was necessary to ensure they could remain open safely and sustainably.
“Sinn Féin provided the Minister with a detailed document on what we believed needed to be done. I regret that many of the issues we flagged months ago have not been resolved. These include:
- An audit of school buildings
- Funding for those struggling most with overcrowded conditions
- Support for parents where children have to self-isolate
- Support for high risk students and staff who cannot attend school building
“Not only have these concerns not been dealt with, but increasingly reports of the school-specific contract tracing and identifying school transmissions has left a lot to be desired and, incredibly, the department last week decided to cut the budget for schools PPE by 40%.
“At a time of a third wave, this was a reckless and staggering decision that must be reversed immediately.
“Children have already lost out so much – time in school buildings is precious and we must do all we can to get children back into their schools when it is safe to do so.
“But high risk staff, high risk students, and relatives of students and staff who are at high risk all deserve properly supported remote working and learning if they choose it. In addition, we need to:
- Reverse the 40% cut to PPE budget
- Provide surgical-grade masks for all SNAs
- Reexamine the contact-tracing approach – what is considered a community transmission and what is considered a school transmission? We need transparency here.
- A commonsense and compassionate approach from educational welfare services/TUSLA where a parent is not comfortable sending their child to school at this time.