Cork principals warn it's 'too soon' to reopen schools

One secondary school principal said it will be “impossible” for schools to manage infection control, given the big surge in positive cases nationwide.
Cork principals warn it's 'too soon' to reopen schools

Kinsale Community School principal Fergal McCarthy said: “I don’t think it is the most pragmatic and safest thing for us to do, particularly now as the schools have become so adept at online provision. I don’t there is the same urgency of having people back in school that there would have been in a bygone era.” Picture Denis Boyle

CORK school principals have expressed their fears about the planned reopening of schools this week, following the surge in Covid-19 cases.

Transport Minister Eamon Ryan said yesterday that schools, colleges, and creches will reopen on Thursday despite record numbers of Covid-19 cases in Ireland.

Education Minister Norma Foley is set to attend a meeting with public health officials tomorrow afternoon, with unions, management bodies, and Department officials in attendance.

The principal of Gaelscoil Pheig Sayers in Cork city, Adrian Breathneach, said he was hoping the reopening may be delayed.

“From talking to a lot of colleagues, we think it is a huge risk, especially with the numbers at the moment. We were hoping it might be delayed a few weeks due to the big numbers, which are getting higher every day. Kids are carrying it even more than adults. I think it is maybe too soon to be opening up schools at the moment,” he said.

The primary school principal said they will abide by whatever decision the authorities make, but feels going back this week is “premature”.

Kinsale Community School principal Fergal McCarthy said: “I don’t think it is the most pragmatic and safest thing for us to do, particularly now as the schools have become so adept at online provision. I don’t there is the same urgency of having people back in school that there would have been in a bygone era.”

'IMPOSSIBLE'

The secondary school principal said it is going to be "impossible" for schools to manage infection control giving the big surge in positive cases numbers nationwide. Mr McCarthy said sourcing replacement teachers will also be very difficult. “I don’t think reopening is the safest thing to do with the level of infection in the community running very high. It is going to be impossible for schools to manage infection control in a school setting at one level and it is going to be really difficult for us to manage staffing at another level.

“Schools are not going to be able to find replacement teachers to adequately supervise the children and deliver the curriculum. Staffing is not an issue if you are in an online space because people can deliver the service in a remote setting. 

"Tony Holohan is talking about it coming to its zenith next week so why on earth would you open schools when the infection is rampant in our communities. We can use the Christmas break as a circuit breaker to slow down the rate of infection,” he added.

PREPARATION

Mr McCarthy said teachers should be allowed to use next Thursday and Friday to prepare once again for remote learning and then teach online the following week. 

“In the context of 20,000 cases a day unless something dramatically changes by next Thursday it should be delivered in an online setting. My advice would be to ask schools and staff to prepare for the delivery of the curriculum during Thursday and Friday of next week and then to teach remotely for the following week.” 

Mr Breathneach said school faculties across Cork are bracing themselves for a return.

“They could drop a bombshell to us on Wednesday after they meet again, but that is unlikely. We will probably be going back alright. We will drive on and do our best. We have to get our air filters in.

“It is a bit premature to be going back with the numbers. We had a load of cases before Christmas that we never had before. We don’t know what it is going to be like when we go back,” he added.

The primary school principal said they are ready to reopen if called upon next Thursday, but he doesn’t think it "makes sense" to put teachers and students in that situation. 

A spokesperson for the Minister for Education Norma Foley TD said she recognises the huge importance of school for children and young people.

“All infection prevention and control measures in place in schools are kept under constant review, and the Minister and the Department have continued to engage with public health officials over the Christmas period.

“As previously agreed, a meeting with public health will take place next Tuesday between unions, management bodies, the Minister, and the Department of Education in advance of school reopening,” the spokesperson added.

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