A Cork principal has said the newly published interim advice in relation to the reopening of schools will have significant impacts on schools, with the advice around distancing in particular “not doable” in secondary school settings.
The new advice recommends that a distance of one metre should be maintained between desks or between individual pupils from third class upwards at primary level.
It states that if a class is divided into pods, there should be at least 1m distance between individual pods within the 'Class Bubble' and between individuals in the pod, whenever possible.
At secondary level it says physical distancing of 2 metres where possible, or at least 1 metre, should be maintained between desks or between individual students or staff.
Announcing the details, the Minister for Education Norma Foley said: "We all want to support the education system so that we can welcome our pupils and staff across our school communities back into a safe environment later in the year. We will continue to work with the public health experts over the course of the summer to update the interim advice as necessary."
The Education Minister said she was struck by the commitment by everyone "towards providing the best possible experience for the whole school community to return to school as safely as possible and as fully as possible in September.”
Mr Aaron Wolfe, acting principal at Colaiste Eamann Ris in Cork pointed out that class sizes at second level include as many as 30 pupils and said classrooms couldn’t cater for such distancing.
“Schools weren’t developed for keeping a 2 metre distance,” he said.
Mr Wolfe also expressed concern about guidance around having a Covid-compliant staffroom and said he wouldn't think there were many schools in the country sizeable enough to meet this advice.
He also expressed concern about the financial implications of the advice for schools and said the Board of Management at his school had taken the decision to wait a little longer before they implement any changes ahead of the new school term.
The plan also received criticism from Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education and Cork South Central TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire who pointed out how the advice around whether children would return to school daily has changed a number of times.
He said parents need clarity on the issue and urged the newly appointed Education Minister to publish a roadmap for the return to education as soon as possible.
"The Department of Education is at sea when it comes to the plan to reopen schools. Our schools shut their doors almost four months ago, but the department only started looking at this about four weeks ago. Confusion has grown ever since,” he said.
Deputy Ó Laoghaire said that over the course of one weekend at the end of May, the government's position shifted from blended learning to a full return to schools, and then back again to not every student attending.
"On June 12th, Minister Joe McHugh outlined what schools would look like in the instance of 1m or 2m social distancing, but said that the Government would not be pursuing this,” the Cork TD said.
"Now the picture is changing again, and it seems that if this advice is followed by the Department, then not every child will be back every day,” he added.