Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD has called on the Minister for Education Norma Foley to meet with Opposition TDs without delay, saying there are numerous issues surrounding the return to schools that require urgent clarification.
Teachta Ó Laoghaire said:
“Many schools will reopen in the next two or three days. Everyone wants schools to reopen successfully and safely. That is vitally important for students, parents, teachers and for society.
“The public, however, are concerned that preparations for the return to schools by this chaotic government have left schools in a difficult situation. Sinn Féin wants to see a safe and full reopening of schools and we are working in support of that objective, but the government has to engage with us and listen to our concerns.
“I have been seeking a cross-party meeting with the Minister for Education so we can work together to address issues arising from the reopening of schools. We are right down to the wire and there are still many unanswered questions.
“I have concerns about the lack of a plan for how children at high-risk, who will stay at home, can continue with their education. Clear guidance needs to be provided by the Minister to ensure these children will not be educationally disadvantaged. Similarly, this should apply to children whose parents or relatives are at high-risk, and we need clarity for high-risk teachers and support staff who must be supported. I am astonished that there hasn’t been more guidance on this.
“We also need to know whether parents and guardians looking after children who are self-isolating will be entitled to appropriate leave from work. Sinn Féin is proposing a significant expansion of Force Majeure leave to address this.
“I am concerned that sufficient levels of substitution have not been accounted for in the plan to reopen schools and sufficient space to distance within classrooms. An audit of schools should already be underway to assess where additional space, support and construction is required.
“I also believe there is a need for rapid testing to prevent any spread of Covid-19 within schools, and contingency planning undertaken; particularly in the event of localised lockdowns.
“It is clear that some students have unfortunately fallen behind since schools have closed, and many are at risk of becoming disengaged from education entirely. Increased investment in school completion programmes and home school community liaison officers could help to make sure that these children do not lose out.
“There is no doubt that the reopening of schools is a positive development, and will do much for the mental and emotional health of many children and their families. We know that parents, teachers and staff want to do the right thing, but they need peace of mind on these and other issues.”