Posted by Schooldays Newshound, on 04/01/2022. Tags: Parenting Teachers
Statement following meeting between Minister Foley and education stakeholders today, 4 January 2022
Minister for Education Norma Foley TD together with officials, has today met with representatives from Public Health, the HSE and education stakeholders to discuss the re-opening of schools following the Christmas break, on Thursday 6 January.
These meetings were productive, with all parties recognising the importance to students of in-school teaching and learning and the need for all in the school community to have regard to the measures in place to support school communities to operate in line with Public Health advice.
Education stakeholders were briefed by the Minister and Public Health representatives on how the Covid-19 mitigation measures in place in schools have been reviewed by Public Health and will continue in place in the coming term. Public Health remains of the view that these mitigation measures are effective and appropriate. Furthermore, Public Health officials advised that there is no Public Health rationale to delay the reopening of schools later this week.
Schools will operate in line with their Covid-19 response plans, which set out a range of mitigation measures for schools, including hand hygiene, mask-wearing, and social distancing. Schools have also been provided with guidance on maintaining good ventilation.
The successful roll-out by the HSE of the booster vaccination campaign for adults and the opening the vaccine programme to children aged 5-11 was also noted.
Guidance for parents and students on ensuring symptomatic students and household close contacts should not attend school is being issued through a communications campaign as well as directly through schools. Further to today’s meetings, clarifications and further information will issue to schools from Public Health and the Department tomorrow in advance of schools reopening.
The Department will continue to meet regularly with the education partners as part of the ongoing supports to the school system during Covid-19.Source
ASTI expresses dismay at lack of progress on school safety
The ASTI Standing Committee met this evening following today’s meeting of education stakeholders (including teacher unions), the Minister for Education and representatives from her Department, and public health officials. The ASTI remains highly concerned by the developing situation.
ASTI Standing Committee expressed dismay at the lack of progress on school safety in the context of rising cases of the Omicron variant. Teachers and students spend their days in overcrowded classrooms, many of which are poorly ventilated.
While the Government has acknowledged the staffing crisis facing schools as they re-open this week, there is little by way of additional support for safety and to assist schools in remaining open.
Schools will have flexibility to prioritise in-person teaching for certain student groups, where staff absences due to Covid impact on the operation of schools. The ASTI expects intense disruption for schools and immense pressure on school staff and school principals in particular.
In response to ASTI representations, the Government has also agreed to consider the need for higher grade masks in schools. The ASTI’s view is that medical grade masks are essential in second-level schools and must be provided urgently.
Despite repeated calls from the ASTI, many classrooms are still in dire need of HEPA filtration units in order to assist with air quality.
“These measures were necessary last year when we first called for them. We should not be in this situation now.” said ASTI President Eamon Dennehy.
Key ASTI concerns remain, including:
Schools are re-opening without provision of medical grade masks;
Many classrooms are in need of HEPA filtration units; and
Risks to medically high-risk individuals’ safety remain.
The ASTI is insisting on regular and frequent engagement between the Department and the education stakeholders. The ASTI will continue to monitor and report on the situation on the ground in schools all over the country.
ISSU Statement: No Consultation with Students on Reopening Schools Plan
The Irish Second-level Students’ Union (ISSU) believes that announcing a full reopening of schools, with a two-day notice, is rushing school leaders to put in adequate risk-mitigation measures to ensure a safe return for students. Additionally, the department's announcement has not responded adequately to the shortages of school and teaching staff, and student absenteeism.
The ISSU notes the high levels of disruption that schools and students have experienced in the last term, and that any return to in-person learning should be done on a phased approach, whilst prioritising exam year students and students with special educational needs.
6th Year Student, Quinton Kelly, said;
“As a sixth-year student myself, I am extremely disappointed in the Department of Education's decision to have a full reopening of schools.
With case numbers rising and school attendance depleting, I am not assured that each student will receive the same standard of education. If we see extreme absences this week while having in-person teaching, it leaves no room for online learning equivalents for absent students.
With a substitution crisis in place, the cover needed for absent teachers simply does not exist. From my own experience, I am not confident that the new measures in place will make an effective change in time for a sudden full return to school”
ISSU Uachtarán Emer Neville, after attending a briefing with the Department, said;
“Last nights’ briefing has left students in a position of major uncertainty, and schools will have little time to assess their absences and plan adequately for reopening schools safely.
With the high levels of close contacts and COVID-19 infections currently affecting the country, many students will either be unable to return to school or will be welcomed back to school on Thursday by classes without a teacher or substitution.
Disruptions will remain a major issue for teaching and learning, which leaves students, particularly those in exam years, at an acute disadvantage.”
The ISSU further notes students were not consulted on this announcement. This demonstrates a disregard for how important the voice of students is in this discussion, as an equal stakeholder in education. This approach to finalising the return to school without consultation comes as a surprise, considering a very productive and close relationship between a wider pool of stakeholders with the Department of Education in recent months, in response to the challenges that the pandemic has brought about.
The ISSU is continuing to call for an open and solution-oriented discussion with all education stakeholders on how to minimise disruption of teaching and learning. The union is calling for:
A phased return to school, starting from Monday, January 10th, prioritising in-person tuition for exam year students and students with Special Education Needs (SEN).
The urgent sourcing of HEPA filters for all classrooms.
Additional adjustments to be made to the Leaving Certificate and Junior Cycle exam papers for 2022.
The ISSU is urging all stakeholders in school communities to adhere strictly to public health regulations in order to ensure the safety of schools for all students and staff.