January 19, 2022
Principals being left high and dry by Department of Education when it comes to COVID – Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD, has called on the Minister for Education to urgently address issues regarding the recording of Covid-19 cases in schools.

Speaking following reports that the HSE will not register schoolchildren with positive antigen tests as confirmed Covid-19 cases, the Cork South Central TD said:

“It has been an incredibly challenging number of weeks for school leaders, who are trying to navigate the emergence of the highly contagious Omicron variant and its impact in school settings.

“The least principals deserved was to receive proper support from the Minister and Department of Education. Instead, they have been left high and dry.

“Speaking to principals, it is clear that the Department of Education have abdicated responsibility once again, with principals very often left to their own devices to handle any Covid cases that arise within their school, and to figure out how to respond.

“The principals’ phone helpline, set up for the very reason of supporting school leaders, is just not accessible enough. Many principals are finding they can’t get through, and are waiting over 24 hours to get a call back.

“When they can get through, I am being told that the HSE helpline will not record or register Covid outbreaks in school settings unless the cases are PCR-confirmed. This is completely bizarre, given the current government guidance doesn’t allow for anyone under the age of 40 to go for PCR testing.

“Allowing ambiguity over the extent of Covid in our schools helps no one. Parents need to know where there are cases, so that they can take all the precautions necessary to keep their family safe. This is particularly so for those with medically vulnerable family members.

“Principals are not getting clear guidance from the Department. Many are still struggling to secure HEPA filtration. The school community are hearing nothing from the Minister for Education.

“Everybody wants schools to be able to stay open, but more than that, functioning well. We can’t expect principals and school staff to produce miracles, they need support.

“From my conversations with Principals, many are feeling incredibly burnt out and feel they have been abandoned. I fear that we may have issues with retention of principals into the future, given this poor treatment.

“The Minister needs to show leadership here, to properly resource the Principals’ Helpline and portal and to review the recording of Covid cases in schools as a matter of urgency.”

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