Principals demand clarity on schools reopening to reassure 'terrified' parents and staff

Principals demand clarity on schools reopening to reassure 'terrified' parents and staff

NEWS 26/8/2020 Pictured at Kinsale Community School was principal Fergal McCarthy with one of the many signs to remind students. Picture Denis Boyle

A decision must be made on the reopening of schools to reassure ‘terrified ’ parents and staff.

It comes as Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said it is likely that a decision will be made tomorrow on when to reopen schools. It's thought that proposals to keep schools closed for the month of January are being examined.

Owenabue Educate Together National School principal, Trina Golden, said: “We need reassurance for staff and parents who are terrified at the moment and to give clarity to people of the measures we are putting in place to try and provide safety.

“If the recommendation is that the numbers are too high and there needs to be some length of closure, that decision needs to be made now, we can’t be waiting until Thursday or Friday, we need to get plans in place,” she said.

Principal of the newly opened Owenabue Educate Together school in Carrigaline Trina Golden.
Principal of the newly opened Owenabue Educate Together school in Carrigaline Trina Golden.

Kinsale Community School principal Fergal McCarthy said a decision is needed to provide clarity for Leaving Cert students who would, under normal circumstances, be preparing to sit mock examinations. A Cabinet sub-committee is due to meet today, with a full Cabinet meeting set for tomorrow.

Mr McCarthy said that the Department of Education’s planning has been “quite reactionary” and said that a “longer-term view” regarding Covid-19 in schools needs to be taken.

“If schools are not going to be able to reopen until February or until the virus is under control to a far greater degree, then it’s very difficult for Leaving Cert students, the group who were in Fifth Year when schools were closed from March until the summer last year, so they really need clarity on what the examination is going to look like and how they are going to prepare for it.

He added that it is particularly the case for students who have autism spectrum differences, as they need to process how things occur in advance, leaving them “particularly disadvantaged if the pre examinations can’t replicate what the Leaving Cert examinations are going to look like”.

Meanwhile, students are looking ahead to their mock examinations which are traditionally sat from February.

He said that the organisation of the mock examinations includes a number of objectives, one of which is that the examinations “must closely replicate what the final examination is going to be”, something that cannot be done in the current climate.

“What practice will these students have had in respect of sitting these examinations?” said Mr McCarthy.

Kinsale Community School is situated within the Bandon/Kinsale local electoral area (LEA) which saw the highest number of cases in Co Cork up to December 28.

There were 126 cases recorded and a 14-day incidence rate per 100,000 population of 338.1, higher than that of the national average of 245.6.

Mr McCarthy said that when the schools reopened last August, the virus was far less active in communities than it currently is.

“We know what the information currently is in respect of the case numbers in hospitals and in the community, they’ve got to an alarming level.

“What Dr Ronan Glynn said was absolutely correct, we need to double down on this, we need to socially isolate, we need to safeguard our most vulnerable and you don’t do that by putting hundreds of children into the same building because that’s a breeding ground for the transfer of the infection.”

Fine Gael senator Tim Lombard said the figures are “very frightening” and that although people expected a rise in cases, nobody expected the numbers currently being recorded.

“I think we’re going to have a scenario where we have a full lockdown like in March and the decision on whether schools will reopen or not is something we have to sit down and really think about,” he said.

“The figures are really frightening. The incidence rate of 338.1 in Bandon/Kinsale LEA is a frightening figure, and because of that, we’re going to have to look at really extreme measures to make sure people don’t meet and interact. We’ve seen the issue in CUH in the last few days, the health service is at maximum capacity and, unfortunately, there’s more to come.”

Ann Piggott, ASTI President
Ann Piggott, ASTI President

President of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland, Ann Piggott, said members are worried about being in classrooms.

“Numbers are rising rapidly, and the situation has been described as ‘rampant’ and ‘out of control’ by experts,” she said.

“The unprecedented numbers, which are still increasing, are a major cause of concern for members. The new variants of the virus may lead to much faster transmission rates. As younger people might now be more susceptible, the ASTI is seeking assurances from Minister Foley that the current mitigations being administered in schools are enough to protect students and staff.

She said the Government needs to inform teachers, students and the public of their decision “as soon as possible” as teachers and parents will need to prepare.

INTO president Mary Magner told that the INTO hopes to meet with Department of Education officials and others this week “to progress this discussion”, having written to Government last week to demand a delay in schools reopening.

She said it is “imperative” that decisions are taken on public health grounds and “swiftly communicated to our schools”.

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