CORK principals and education executives have met in person for the first time since lockdown to prepare for a new way of life in schools.
Schools will be using gymnasiums for classes, erecting screens, hand sanitising stations, clear signage, and making physical alterations to classrooms to ensure social distancing is possible.
Teaching unions are also seeking a review of face mask policies for secondary school students, with a growing number of experts suggesting that masks become mandatory.
Currently, the government has not recommended that students wear face masks but the teaching union, ASTI, has called for a review of this advice.
A meeting of the Cork Education and Training Board (CETB) took place yesterday at St Aidan's Community College, Cork, to plot a course of action over the next three weeks ahead of schools reopening on August 31.
Chief Executive of CETB, Denis Leamy, said plans are well underway for the safe return of schools, colleges and centres for education with priority to have all students returning while managing risk as much as is humanly possible.
Principal of Carrignafoy Community College, Tracey Kennedy, said that she feels very supported in the task ahead in reopening her school.
“These meetings are very supportive and informative because we get to share a lot of information amongst the group of principals and hear regular updates from what's going on in the sector as well,” she said.
Schools are currently undergoing the appointment of an aide to assist with the physical and logistical arrangements necessary for the reopening of schools, including the movement of furniture, setting up of hand sanitization, signage, training and engaging with parents and staff.
“We’re all following the Government's roadmap for the reopening of schools so at this point most schools would have appointed their aide as part of that roadmap and management teams are already working on the plans for opening the school and making sure that we are meeting all the requirements,” Ms Kennedy said.
She said that although it is a “very challenging time for schools”, that the important thing is that everyone has a common goal.
“Teachers want to be in schools teaching, students want to be in school learning, and parents want their kids in school so we will all do the best we can to make sure we minimise risk. There's no point in saying that we can eliminate risk but we will all be working together with an element of personal responsibility on us all.
“Every school has different challenges depending on available space and class sizes so we all have different challenges to face but it's about doing the best we can to deliver. Our role is to deliver education and with teaching and learning being our core business, we will do the best we can to make sure that happens in our school,” she said.
She said that a positive thing for schools to take from the current climate is that people are aware of the measures that need to be taken in order to limit the spread of the virus.
“One of the positives is that we are several months into this pandemic now so everyone is aware of the basics such as hand sanitizing and social distancing, it's not something new for us so it's how we can best navigate our way through all of that is what we're looking at now,” she said.