SINN Féin spokesperson on Education Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire has said will meet with Minister for Education Norma Foley today to outline his concerns on making the reopening of schools sutainable on the back of a survey his party has carried out.
Sinn Féin says it has contacted all primary and post-primary schools in the State about the key issues that they faced surrounding reopening their schools.
Mr Ó Laoghaire said:
"Of the schools surveyed, 48.5% felt that they did not have sufficient staff to meet their schools’ needs upon reopening, and 76% of those surveyed did not believe they would have sufficient access to substitution should a teacher become unwell.
"19% of school principals said that they felt unprepared for the reopening of their school.
"Ultimately, the return to school has been made far more difficult because our education system is both overcrowded and underfunded. 25% of school principals surveyed said that they did not have sufficient classroom space to facilitate appropriate social distancing. 22% said that they will have to increase voluntary contributions in response to additional Covid-related costs.
"On the back of these findings, I believe there are five key things that must be addressed to ensure that schools are kept open safely.
"Rapid testing for students and staff who show symptoms will be essential to give parents and staff peace of mind and to minimise any potential danger.
"Supporting families where a child is displaying symptoms and has to be kept home, by expansion of Force Majeure Leave.
"Large, overcrowded classrooms are the reason that the return to school has been so difficult as they act as a big barrier to physical distancing. We need to work towards eliminating classes of over 30.
"Expanding hours of teachers who do not have enough hours, expanding the numbers of substitute panels to include rural and Gaeltacht areas, and expediting deployment of 2nd year PME and 4th year student teachers.
"Special Education Teachers must be dedicated to special education, and not pulled from pillar to post. Additional SNAs will also be essential, as will clarity on provision for remote learning, particularly for families where a parent or relative living in the family home is high risk.
"Cross-party cooperation will be essential to ensuring a safe, sustainable return to school, and Sinn Féin is ready and willing to help provide solutions."