We’re wasting millions on a schools plan doomed to fail

Many children and teenagers remain utterly oblivious to the threat of a second wave of the virus - even outside school, says Áilín Quinlan
We’re wasting millions on a schools plan doomed to fail

BACK TO SCHOOL PLAN: But Taoiseach Micheál Martin’s grand scheme will not work if people are ignoring protocol outside school, says Áilin Quinlan

A FEW days before the Government launched its much-hyped €375 million school reopening plan, I did some things.

I picked up people from a child’s birthday party. I visited a playground. I walked through a town park and along a street. I shopped in two large, very different shops.

What I heard, and witnessed during those activities informs what I am going to say now.

All this talk of bubbles and pods and enhanced cleaning and hygiene supports and isolation zones and re-structured school buses and all the rest is massively, outrageously, deluded.

The Irish State is spending the guts of, what, €400-500 million on things like 1,000 additional teachers at second level, enhanced cleaning and hand hygiene supports classroom ‘bubbles’ for primary schools and more SNA’s and “minor capital works.”

Millons upon millions of euro are being ring-fenced for structural changes to school buses in an attempt to ensure the “safety of school children.”

Schoolchildren, I would like to point out, who outside in the community are for the most part behaving as if there never was a pandemic.

Ah here. Be still my beating heart.

This is a government that, in the teeth of a massive recession (and in the grand ol’ tradition of Charlie Haughey himself) and following months of lockdown, is gifting itself a bowl of financial plums before heading off on a lengthy holiday paid for by the taxpayer:

The super-juniors get to pack €10,000 extra in “expenses” along with their buckets and spades.

The Taoiseach and his cabinet are earning more than Leo’s crew (despite a so-called 10% wage cut.)

Simon Coveney has bare-facedly retained — without Cabinet approval, mind — the €200,000-a-year privilege of his State car and two garda drivers despite the fact that he’s no longer the Tanáiste.

Meanwhile, the Government expects school principals to return from THEIR holidays a full month before they’re supposed to — and with no extra pay — to complete Education Minister Norma Foley’s agenda of work. This while blandly ignoring the utter pointlessness of the eye-watering spending and gargantuan work-effort which is going into ensuring social distancing and hand hygiene when the schools re-open from the end of this month.

Why is it pointless?

I refer you to a recent observation by Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn. Controlling Covid-19 in the community, he said, was the best way of preventing a spread into schools or other workplaces.

And this is why the government is so utterly deluded about the re-opening of the schools.

Covid-19 is most certainly not being controlled in the community by social distancing. Not by a long shot. Not from what I have seen.

Children and teenagers — the very ones who are the focus of all this frenzied multi-million euro investment in social distancing measures in schools — are not spending their summer social distancing.

At the birthday party last weekend, I asked whether any efforts had been mainly to ensure social distancing was observed by the young guests.

Er, no.

I visited a playground one sunny day shortly before the announcement.

Gaggles of kids of all sizes were galloping around handling the play equipment while parents stood in groups chatting; not a droplet of sanitiser in sight. It was as if our old friend Covid had never existed.

In the town park, huddles of teenagers — the very ones who will, I presume, shortly be expected to sit one metre apart in expensively re-structured classrooms, use hand-sanitiser from special equipment, and take precautions while travelling on expensively re-structured school buses — were sitting together laughing and handling each other’s phones. They lay sprawled beside each other on the grass and squashed next to one other on benches.

As I exited the park, I was nearly knocked down by some youngsters flying down the pavement on bicycles like a swarm of wasps heading for a picnic table.

“Stay off the pavement and spread out,” I snarled, leaping out of the way. “You’re supposed to be social distancing.” They only laughed.

Then the shops.

Jaysus.

In the first one the shop assistants were all behind their Perspex screens — but several customers weren’t wearing masks.

In the second, all the retail assistants were behind Perspex screens — and wore masks on top of it. Again, a good proportion of the customers were walking around the aisles with bare faces (bringing a whole new meaning to bare-faced cheek if you ask me.)

Am I dreaming, I thought.

Aren’t masks supposed to be mandatory in shops?

I googled.

It is mandatory.

Yet nobody seems to be drawing attention to this gargantuan elephant in the living room.

Instead there are all these headlines in the newspapers about how compliant the Irish are in terms of social distancing and hand sanitising.Are you kidding?.

Many people are not complying. The government is not even attempting to make people comply. In fact the Government is not even looking out its own window to see if people are complying.

It’s sitting with its hands over its eyes issuing regulations and dishing out eye-watering sums of money to “protect” schools from the virus while ignoring the fact that there’s not a whole lot of social distancing going on in the wider community, particularly in terms of kids.

We’re spending millions of euro in taxpayers’ money we can’t afford on putting all these protections and barriers and precautions in place in the schools — for students who, as anyone with an eye in their head will tell you, are for the most part not social distancing outside the school gates.

Come September, they’ll all still be bunched up beside each other in parks and on low walls and rubbing shoulders as they walk along in groups, the very second they exit their highly-sanitised socially-distanced school premises.

Minister Foley has pontificated that we must “acknowledge the lasting impact of recent months on young people.”

Would you get over yourself, Minister?

Step out of your plush office for once and see for yourself what’s happening in the community, in the parks, the playgrounds, the shops and the streets.

You’ll soon see how much lasting impact most young people are experiencing as a result of the pandemic.

None.

Many children and teenagers and many adults too, remain utterly and callously oblivious to the threat of a second wave of the virus.

Throwing money at expensive and social-distancing precautions for schools which are utterly pointless in the context of what’s going on outside the school gates simply isn’t going to work.

It will all prove to be a massive waste of time and money.

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