Schools must be empowered to protect community

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin TD
29 October 2021

Ahead of the return to school from midterm break, Labour education spokesperson Aodhán Ó Ríordáin has called on the Department to trust school communities and ensure that no child is unnecessarily out of the classroom. Deputy Ó Ríordáin said that while precautions must be taken and public health guidance adhered to at all times, many school communities feel that they are not being listened to by the Department.

Deputy Ó Ríordáin said:

“My office has been inundated with contact from principals throughout the country who feel abandoned by the Department since September. School communities are doing their very best to protect staff, students and local areas but they are not being listened to by the Department. We had two really disappointing issues before midterm where principals were not trusted by the Department when trying to protect the community from Covid.

“The strange part in this is that while the restaurant and bar regulations are changing all the time, school regulations remain rigid, inflexible and appear divorced from the reality on the ground. The Department of Education need to realise that ordinary rules don’t apply in a pandemic. They need to trust principals who are acting in good faith and in the best interest of children and the school community. No school wants to close, but if a principal makes a decision and is supported by the board of management, then Department should support them too.

“There has to be a little bit of leeway here and there has to be some understanding. The Department and the Minister need to engage with unions in good faith on how schools can safely operate in a way that keeps children in the classroom. There has been huge commotion on the airwaves about bars and nightclubs – why aren’t we caring about schools in the same way?

“The mixed messaging around 5-12 year olds must be clarified so that teachers and SNAs aren’t petrified returning to the classroom. There has never been any level of consistency or clarity of message around this cohort of students. NPHET must engage with unions on this point. Unfortunately, like all things, the Department are now acting surprised at the requests for antigen tests to be made available and for contact tracing to resume.

“We know that these are proven safe ways of keeping us all safe. It is clear from this latest debacle that there are questions of competency for the Department of Education and whether it is fit for purpose and capable to safely steer schools through the Covid crisis. We simply can’t return to the chaos experienced last September, but there must be a middle ground in all of this.”

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