Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD, has described the new proposals for antigen testing in schools as ‘underwhelming’, expressing concern at the responsibility for contact tracing and testing being passed from the HSE onto school staff and parents.
Teachta Ó Laoghaire said:
“The government has been talking about changes in contact tracing and antigen testing for three weeks – Sinn Féin and others were calling for clarity on this for almost a month now.
“Antigen testing was meant to be implemented this week – now it is barely going to be implemented this month, and will be introduced when children only have two or three weeks left before the Christmas break.
“In the meantime, schools are hanging by a thread, with the Minister having done very little to tackle the crisis in substitution and issues around ventilation.
“Right from September, I have been speaking to school leaders on the ground who are under incredible pressure, feeling that they have been abandoned by the Department of Education, and getting no supports from the HSE.
“What has been announced today will be very underwhelming for many in the school community.
“This proposal effectively passes the buck for contact tracing and testing to anyone but the HSE.
“It will be parents who will be responsible for administering antigen tests to their children and informing the school of a positive antigen or PCR result.
“It will be the principal who will be responsible for informing other parents, for sorting antigen tests, for effectively carrying out any and all contact tracing.
“HSE and Public Health need to play a role in contact tracing and tests in schools. They must provide direct support to principals and school leadership, who have enough to be doing in leading teaching and learning in their schools without doing the HSE’s job for them.
“I am concerned that antigen tests here are essentially displacing the role PCR tests played prior, instead of complementing them.
“There is no mention at all of antigen testing being provided for staff, nor any mention of a plan for secondary school students and staff.
“I also hope the Minister has secured the supplies necessary for antigen tests to be available to all children who are identified as a close contact, and that they will be rapidly delivered to their homes.
“Schools being open and functioning well is essential. Everything the government is doing must focus on delivering that, by ensuring robust contact tracing policies are in place as well as tackling the issues around ventilation and substitution.
“There are many questions that remain on the practicalities of these underwhelming proposals.
“I have secured a meeting with NPHET next week where I will be asking these questions, as well as raising with the Minister in Dáil questions next week, and seeking clarity for the school community.”