There has been a mixed reaction to the announcement that schools will remain closed for the rest of the month at least, while Leaving Certificate students can attend three days per week.
A Cork Leaving Cert student has said that the decision was the right call from a “Covid-19 containment point of view”. However, Bishopstown Community School student, Cormac O’Mahony, told The Echo that academically it’s difficult to get real classwork done at home.
“Even with the masks and the disinfecting at the end of every class, it’s still better than not being in school and learning from home.
“It’s a lot harder to learn in a room on your laptop where you have three or four classes a day as opposed to nine, it just doesn’t feel as much like school as actually going in does so it’s hard to focus on the actual learning aspect of stuff,” he said.
However, principals, teachers and their representatives have questioned the logic of the plans.
Richard Terry, a history and maths teacher at St Colman’s College in Fermoy, questioned whether all Leaving Cert students would come into school, leaving teachers with two groups of students to cater for, those who attend school three days per week and those who may not feel safe going into a school environment.
He also questioned whether his 23 Leaving Cert maths students would remain in one classroom or would be split into two, and if so, questioned where the required additional teaching staff would come from.
“Putting 23 students and a teacher into a room, just because the rest of the school is empty doesn’t make that room any safer. I know keeping the rest of the school home minimises contact overall and helps reduce the R-number overall nationally but that’s at the cost of putting a very specific cohort at risk.
“If the classes are to be split, where are the teachers going to come from?” he questioned. He said taking teachers from the current body of staff would be a repeat of last year where focus remained on Leaving Cert students and other students’ teaching time was forgotten about.
Mr Terry also raised the issue that students, having been told they would return to school after the Christmas break, did not take home all of their school books and material required for online learning.
“The department should have had a bit more cop on back in December and said there’s a possibility we won’t reopen so prepare for that eventuality.
Coláiste Éamann Rís school principal Aaron Wolfe is also unsure how this new format will work in the coming weeks.
“A lot of pressure will fall on the principals to come up with new timetables in a very short period of time. It will be tough to get the students in and do five days of subjects over three days. Logistically it is going to be very challenging,” he said.
Mr Wolfe is perplexed as to how safe it is for teachers and students to continue meeting up on a daily basis given the huge rise in Covid-19 cases nationwide.
“By calling in sixth-year teachers there will still be an awful amount of teachers in the school. I don’t understand what the point is. Either we are in lockdown or we are not.
“This proposal will result in getting teachers and students out and about. The big risk is that 18-year-olds transmit the virus. They are the riskiest group to bring in,” he said.
Stephen Lynch, assistant principal in Douglas Community School, is also surprised at the decision to bring Leaving Cert students in for three days a week.
“If it is safe to have them in for three days, why not have them in for five days? Where is the duty of care for the staff?
“gr. Teachers are nervous as the risk is much higher in school.
Mr Lynch queried why the Department of Education didn’t have more alternative plans in case of a developing crisis with regards to the pandemic.
“What is most frustrating is why the department didn’t have a plan B, C or even a plan D back in August. There was no backup plan in place. We are still working off the same guidelines that were issued back in August when the daily numbers were very low. We are rushing into rash decisions,” he said.
ASTI president Ann Piggott said generally teachers are concerned with the Government’s decision.
“I am a bit perplexed as to why they have decided to open over the next few weeks for three days rather than waiting for a little longer and then perhaps opening for the full five days.
“A lot of teachers don’t seem too happy with the announcement. Bringing them in for three days each over the next few weeks doesn’t make much sense.”