Sinn Féin Education spokesperson, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD, has responded to the decision of the Government to keep schools closed until the end of January, though leaving cert students are still to attend.
Teachta Ó Laoghaire said:
“The chaos of recent days, and the confusion of today, has been caused by the fact that there has been no plan B.
“The Government had nine months to plan. Schools have been reopened since September. They have failed to plan for the event in which schools would have to close.
“This has led to a situation where plans are being cobbled together, and that representatives of school workers are informed last minute of what is happening.
“There needs to be urgent and intense consultation with their representatives as soon as possible.
“This has led to a situation where there is no minimum agreed standard or best practice of remote learning, and are once again relying on the creativity and commitment of school staff.
“Families are now left worrying that they won’t have access to education because of a digital divide, and a strategy to provide equipment for those who need it.
“We have always agreed that in-school learning is the best form of education and is in the best interests of children.
“However, there comes a point at which the rate of Covid-19 infection is so widespread that it isn’t possible to ensure that schools can operate on a safe and sustainable basis.
“The Government made schools their Alamo. Despite the wide support for keeping schools open as long as possible, when you get numbers as high as this, you have to deal with that reality.
“We also need to ensure that this period is as brief as possible, and that we can return to the classroom as normal as soon as it is safe and sustainable to do so. Obviously that will depend on the public health advice.
“That will require transmission in the community coming down, and it will require significant work in ensuring that schools are made adequately safe and sustainable.
“Regarding Leaving Cert students attending from the 11th, in my view, it is premature when you consider the numbers still rising drastically.
“Clearly we need to keep an eye on the numbers, and the public health advice, that if the numbers do come down significantly, then it may well be possible to introduce some leaving classes later in the month, to minimise time lost.
“We need week-on-week evaluation and public health advice, as well as engagement with Unions on that however.
“Many parents will find this closure difficult, especially those who have to take time off now, or working from home with children learning remotely.
“The Government has failed to provide the necessary income supports to protect these peoples incomes. That needs to be done urgently, with either a PUP payment or an extension of force majeure family leave.”
We also need:
- A minimum standard of remote learning.
- Discussions between HSE and Department of Education and the National Immunisation Advisory Committee programme need to take place to see if school staff can be considered for Level 6 given the importance of their role, especially for special school staff.
- Work with internet providers to again lift data limits for remote learning.
- Continue school meals.
- A reversal to the 40% decrease in the PPE budget for schools.
- All SNAs have access to surgical grade masks.
- Serial testing amongst education staff.
- A system for supporting schools where large numbers of staff are absent connected to the virus needs to be implemented.
- There is an extension of supply panels.
- Discussions between HSE and Department of Education and the National Immunisation Advisory Committee programme need to take place to see if school staff can be considered for level 6 given the importance of their role.
- We need to ensure that there is a remote learning working option available for those at high risk when schools return.