Cork principal says reopening of schools remains 'up in the air'

Cork principal says reopening of schools remains 'up in the air'

STRICT tendering requirements to employ tradesmen to "Covid-proof" schools are putting reopening timelines in jeopardy, it has been warned. 

The recruitment of extra teachers and the requirement to tender for tradespeople to carry out works within schools has left principals with a mountain to climb to reopen schools at the end of this month. 

The principal of Coláiste Éamann Rís in Cork city, Aaron Wolfe, expressed grave concerns about the tendering process required for building works in the school to ensure social distancing and raised questions about its lack of practicalities.

"It's next to impossible to get three quotes from people who know you are wasting their time," he said. 

"It means calling in three builders, three electricians, three plumbers, depending on what needs to be carried out. This can't be done in the few weeks that we have."

He highlighted the challenges faced by his own school.

"We are looking at converting the school stage into a classroom. Even to buy school desks we have to get three quotes."

Mr Wolfe said his school is constantly growing and will have 50 more students compared to last year.

"The school was not built with social distancing in mind," he said.

"For social distancing to happen we've been told that our classes will need to be split in two. If this was done we would need twice the amount of teachers. It's the simplest version of maths that if classes are halved we'll need double the teachers. 

"This all falls on the principals, the deputy principal, and the school's board of management. 

"It was suggested that parish halls could be rented but teachers change every hour. It is unrealistic to say we can work from two campuses."

He said that while exceptions have been made for the department of education, principals have been given little autonomy.

"In the past, the department of education said that we were not allowed to use our special needs allocation to make class sizes smaller, but now all of a sudden they are saying we can. 

"For the Leaving Cert we had fixed deadlines that we had to have results for, yet there was a delay with these results being given out. 

"It seems that the goalposts are being moved in favour of the department but not in favour of schools. Principals in this situation should be given autonomy and trusted to make the right decision."

He said that there are many other questions still unanswered.

"We need to get an extra teacher but haven't been told what the exact allocation is. That must be advertised in another two weeks. There are many elements to this including an interview and Garda vetting but everything remains up in the air."

The Government has provided a €75m package to cover any works required to facilitate physical distancing in schools.

A number of these measures include the reconfiguration of classroom space, the repurposing of rooms, the purchasing of furniture, the modification of desk layouts and the adaptations of toilet areas.

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