A Cork teacher has voiced concerns about the Government’s “poorly thought out” guidelines to reopening schools on August 31.
The financial package of €375 million to support schools reopening includes over 1,000 additional teaching posts and additional guidance counsellors and psychologists.
But Richard Terry, a history and maths teacher in St Colman's College in Fermoy and a member of ASTI's Fermoy branch, toldthat what the Government has overlooked is how best to keep people safe in our schools.
He said that the first thing about the guidelines, which were published yesterday, that struck him was the lack of mandatory masks for students and teachers.
“You need a mask if you're taking a 15-minute bus journey but you can sit in a classroom for six hours of the day without having to wear one which seems very unusual and very worrying and it's very difficult to feel comfortable and safe in an environment where people aren’t wearing masks.
“There seems to have been a turn around recently in the realisation that masks are key and vital to preventing the spread and then in school’s it seems to be a different story, particularly when that’s compounded with the reduction to one-metre social distancing.”
Mr Terry questioned, “What is it about schools that are so magical that the laws of epidemiology seem not to apply?” and noted that the HSE’s advice is “explicitly” to wear a mask where two-metre social distancing cannot be adhered to.
He said that he is “personally concerned” about his own wellbeing, the wellbeing of his family and the wellbeing of his students in the classroom and that people are being put “needlessly at risk”.
He said that he does not see some of the guidelines implementable in schools across the country such as “the idea of trying to fit 24 students in a 7x7 classroom” and that the suggestion to have multiple classrooms in operation in PE halls while simultaneously suggesting the prioritisation of PE shows that it is “an idea concocted by someone who has never actually been in a PE hall”.
“If you have three classes going on, the acoustics of the room means that everyone's going to hear three teachers speaking at the same time,” he said.
He said that many of the problems that schools now face, such as large classroom sizes, capital investment, the conditions of school buildings and a shortage of teachers, are problems that existed before Covid-19 and “if they had been fixed a long time ago, then there might be some hope”.
“There literally isn’t the space in schools to go down to class sizes of 20 or even 24 for a lot of subjects because you have a lot of schools with class sizes in the low thirties and at best the high twenties and they don’t have spare classroom capacity to take overflow.
“It’s a square peg in a round hole, it strikes me as something which is poorly thought out or conceived by people who don't know what it is actually like in a school building and don't know what the resources that we actually have are in terms of the school building.”
Mr Terry said that he believes opening schools at a later date would not make a tangible difference because “it’s not going to change the laws of physics” and that the current measures will not keep people safe in schools.
“What will keep people safe in schools is if the community transmission stays low, if the contact tracing stays effective and if the new app is effective. I think if it gets into schools then the measures being suggested won't actually stop the spread,” he said.