Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD has criticised the Department of Education for their lack of consideration of students and school staff with underlying health conditions.
Speaking today, the Cork South Central TD has said that students deserve safety, but that they also deserve a guarantee of a high standard of education.
Teachta Ó Laoghaire said:
“The roadmap for the reopening of schools, and the guidance issued since then, offers very little guidance on how children, who cannot attend school because of underlying conditions, are to be supported in their education. There is no mention at all in the roadmap of parents who are at high-risk.
“While small in percentage terms, in real terms many children will see their lives profoundly affected, and they are just as much entitled to a decent education as anyone else. There is very little guidance on how they will be supported and it appears that much of the responsibility will fall on special education teachers. These teachers will be pulled from pillar to post as it stands under the government’s plans and will be very stretched in attempting to provide education remotely on top of their existing duties.
“There is a clear need for a dedicated strategy to ensure education can continue to a decent standard.
“I know that there are parents who want to keep their at-risk children safe, but are worried that they will lose out educationally if they keep them at home. I am also aware that many teachers and staff are deeply concerned that if they are at high-risk, but not at very high-risk, that they must attend.
“Unions – including the ASTI – have forwarded several examples, instancing one teacher with acute leukaemia, diabetes type 2, asthma, anaemia and an auto-immune disorder who has been told to return to work after getting a risk assessment. Other conditions in this category include teachers with heart failure, chronic kidney disease, liver disease, cancer, weak immune systems and obesity.
“FÓRSA have instanced an SNA aged over 60, with hypertension and a cardiovascular problem, who has no choice currently but to return to work. In reality, SNAs will scarcely be in a position to socially distance due to the nature of their work. Reopening school buildings is essential, but it cannot involve recklessness.
“School staff deserve to be safe, and children, at home or otherwise deserve a decent education. It seems likely that there is scope to resolve these issues concurrently, but currently such choices are not on the table.
“We want to see schools reopen fully, but it must be in a safe and sustainable way, and that involves ensuring that the welfare of those at high-risk is not compromised, and that the education of children at high-risk, or with such relatives, is not compromised.”