Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD, has called on the Minister to take urgent action to tackle the ventilation and substitution crises in our schools.
His comments follow the results of a survey from the INTO published this morning, which paint a stark picture of the scale of Covid-19 infection and substitution shortages in our schools.
Teachta Ó Laoghaire said:
“This morning’s survey from INTO paints a stark picture. It is reported that since contact tracing was stopped, the level of Covid-19 infection has trebled among primary school children.
“It is shocking too that a Union was forced to carry out this survey to get a sense of the extent of infection in our schools. School leaders who filled this out have enough to be doing, they shouldn’t have to also act as contact tracers and data collectors.
“They were forced to do so because there is a vacuum of information here. Without adequate contact tracing carried out by the HSE, we simply do not know the full picture of infection in school settings.
“The new plans announced last Thursday do not address this; instead, they leave contact tracing solely in the hands of the principal and parents. That is not good enough.
“We cannot pretend COVID is not in schools. We all want them open and functioning well, education is so important, but parents and staff find it hard to believe what they hear from Government when the reality on the ground is so different.
“The Minister needs to show leadership here, it helps nobody to pretend that Covid is not in our schools. She must urgently engage with NPHET and include a role for the HSE within contact tracing, instead of leaving this up to school leadership who already have enough on their plate.
“We have known for some time that Covid is an airborne virus. For nearly a year now, I have been calling for adequate ventilation in our schools.
“CO2 monitors shared between a number of classrooms is merely a sticking plaster, the Minister must now finally act on HEPA filtration in schools.
“The survey results from the INTO also lay bare the scale of the substitution crisis schools are facing. According to the survey, schools were unable to find cover for 1 in 3 substitutable days in primary schools over a 2-week period at the beginning of November.
“The Minister and her Department need to get real about the substitution crisis. So far they have been in denial.
“The Minister must extend substitution panels across the country, discourage lengthy block-booking of subs, identify teachers on secondment who can assist, and examine the use of final-year students teachers to help with this crisis.
“Crucially, she must immediately reverse the decision to remove banked hours, to safeguard special educational teaching and ensure that children with special educational needs do not continue to lose out as a result of the failure to properly address this teaching shortage.
“This is crunch time for our schools. I am calling on the Minister to face up to reality, and to show leadership to tackle these issues head on as a matter of urgency.”