Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD, has said that the Minister for Education, Norma Foley, must engage with NPHET on school contact tracing to address the concerns of school staff, parents and pupils.
Teachta Ó Laoghaire said:
“The situation in schools is serious. School leaders feel isolated. They cannot get in touch with the HSE and feel abandoned by the Department of Education, while students and parents remain in the dark.
“Changes to self-isolation guidelines were expected – making asymptomatic children with negative Covid tests stay at home was extremely disruptive to their education.
“But school staff, parents and pupils were taken aback that contact tracing and risk assessments were removed completely.
“The Minister for Education, Norma Foley, and Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, need to engage with NPHET to explore how they can ensure that schools retain access to public health teams, to risk assessment, to contact tracing, without requiring the unnecessary exclusion of healthy children as was the case before.
“The Minister stated at the time of these changes being announced that they would be kept under review.
“The government, throughout the pandemic, has been keen to find a middle ground on several issues, and it is now time for the Ministers for Education and Health to revert to NPHET to find a middle ground on this issue.
“We do not want to see healthy children excluded from education unnecessarily – we don’t want to go back to the situation we had in early September.
“But we currently have a vacuum of information with schools and parents left in the dark.
“I have written to NPHET officials a number of times seeking a briefing from them on why these changes were made, and what they mean on the ground in our schools.
“I have heard absolutely nothing in response. There are very real concerns that Minister Donnelly, Minister Foley and the CMO, Tony Holohan, need to address transparently.
“We cannot pretend that there is no Covid in schools.
“I am hearing from some schools that they are being told that they are not allowed to tell parents if there is Covid in their child’s class.
“That is wrong in my view. Parents, particularly those who have vulnerable children, need to have access to that information so that they can make informed decisions.
“Schools are currently operating in a knowledge vacuum, and that is not good enough.
“There is an onus on Ministers Foley and Donnelly to ensure that schools get the support they need, and to engage with NPHET so that the guidance is clear and makes sense.”