February 10, 2021
Getting schools reopened safely must not fall off the Minister for Education’s priority list – Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD has said that the Minister for Education must step up her engagement to secure the safe reopening of schools. He has sought a meeting with the Minister to discuss solutions to numerous issues that remain to be addressed.

Teachta Ó Laoghaire said:

“I note that special schools will reopen partially tomorrow. This is welcome, but it is hugely regrettable that it has taken this long. The Department’s failure to put in place a contingency plan for the possibility that Covid-19 cases would increase dramatically and the shambolic mismanagement of this led to undue delay.

“Many parents and children – and indeed staff – have been badly let down by this failure.

“I would much rather all children with special educational needs were returning to school this week, and I have reiterated this view to the Minister for Education. There remains much work to do.

“The Minister must also not lose sight of the goal of reopening schools more generally. Some of her government colleagues have shifted the goalposts and expectations with their public utterances. The position went very rapidly from schools reopening on 1st February, then to St. Patrick’s Day, and some have even said Easter. A lot of parents were shocked and very upset when they heard this. 

“Despite everyone’s best efforts, we all know home-schooling is very challenging. We all know that parents are under severe pressure, including those working from home. We all know that children are losing ground; especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“Opening schools must, therefore, remain a high priority, and not simply an aspiration.

“In my view the Minister should be seeking to secure agreement to this end as a matter of urgency. She needs to address measures that are needed immediately in terms of mitigation; such as the immediate reversal of the 40% cut in PPE, serial testing for all school staff, significant improvements in school tracing, remote working options for high-risk staff and a system for supporting schools where large numbers of staff are absent due to Covid-19.  

“Once that plan is agreed, we can get children back to the classroom as soon as public health advice permits. The longer schools remain closed, the more children lose out. We must all work to prevent this.

“I have sought a meeting with the Minister to discuss our views on this – firstly, to ensure we get all children with special educational needs back to school quickly, but all children as soon as we can. We will continue to be constructive, but the Minister must engage with the Opposition.” 

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