Plan for continued teaching for some cohorts needed if schools remain closed

04 January 2021

If schools are to remain closed after January 11th, there must be some middle ground solution between full closure and all attending, said Labour Education spokesperson Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, calling for teaching solutions to be put in place for certain categories of students as has been done in other countries, but reiterated the Labour Party call for a public health risk assessment by NPHET, and that school staff should be prioritised for the vaccine when sufficient supplies become available.

Deputy Ó Ríordáin said:

“The Labour Party has called for a public health assessment to be carried out by NPHET on whether it is safe to reopen our schools next Monday 11th, but as case numbers mount it is clear that we will need a comprehensive plan for continued teaching and supports for students. What we do know is that Covid-19 is rampant in the community and parents and school staff are rightly worried.

“It may be a case that the reopening of schools will be assessed on a weekly basis, or dependent on how high case numbers are in the communities. However without extensive testing and a robust tracing system it is very difficult to see how schools can reopen as there won’t be a mechanism to track down cases as they arise.

“What I am calling for now is in-school and distance teaching solutions for certain categories of students as has happened in many other countries. We need to find a middle ground course between full closure, and all attending.

“Closing schools will cause major disruption to learning and social wellbeing, and impact hardest on disadvantaged students. Vulnerable students will suffer most from a winter lockdown as school is a place where they get warmth, support and in many cases their meals. Students planning to sit the Leaving Cert and Junior Cert this coming summer also need additional support, and clear guidance.

“If there is a way to keep schools open for the children of frontline workers, vulnerable children and exam students then all options should be considered.

“There is clear evidence from the first lockdown that students from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds and those with special needs were severely impacted by the move to distance learning. We know need to find solutions to prevent that happening again.

“I am also consious of the essential role being played by teachers, SNAs, secretaries, caretakers and all our school staff. That is why there must be clarity on their prioritisation on the vaccine schedule. If we are to have our schools open then there must be vaccine priority for school staff once there are sufficient supplies available.”

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