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Social distancing isn’t happening, says Ailin Quinlan, so why can’t we see kids return to normal education in September?
Social distancing isn’t happening, says Ailin Quinlan, so why can’t we see kids return to normal education in September?
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Ailin Quinlan: Social distancing? Don’t make me laugh. It’s a distant memory

LOOK out the window, or pop down to the shop for a litre of milk and you’ll see that what the teacher unions and the public health experts are saying about the reopening of the schools next autumn makes no sense.

Many, many children are openly mixing with each other. They’re walking around together on the streets. They’re playing together in open spaces and in playgrounds - — and not a tube of hand sanitiser in sight.

They’re leaping in groups on bouncy castles erected on communal green areas by well-intentioned parents. They’re flying down slides into plastic paddling pools together and attending birthday parties. Social distancing? Don’t make me laugh. It’s a distant memory.

Meanwhile, their bored older brothers and sisters are causing mayhem. The devil surely does make work for idle hands, and over the past month or so, brawls, often organised via social media, have been taking place in Cork and Dublin.

Hordes of youngsters armed with everything from knives to hammers have been fighting on the streets and threatening and assaulting people. We’ve had some in Cork, and things have got so bad in Dublin, where organised fights have been staged everywhere from Sutton and Portmarnock to Tallaght and Ringsend, that a petition calling for law reform on juvenile crime has been launched.

In one case a group of young children as young as nine ran riot in a library in Ballyfermot. They were asked to leave the premises and did so, but returned a few minutes later and knocked the librarian to the ground — she sustained a head injury. Social distancing? What is that?

Next, let’s take a look at the carry-on in the student housing streets around UCC. The mess, the noise, the endless disruption and anti-social behaviour, the late-night parties; none of these are signs that the twenty-something revellers who have moved into the area for the summer holidays, are complying with social distancing measures.

It’s become so bad that landlords in the Magazine Road and Glasheen Road area have received letters from gardaí, the HSE and Cork City Council highlighting the outrageous disruption being endured by local residents and pointing out that there were up to 30 people in some of the residences visited by the police.

There is some very fundamental and extremely serious, social and parenting dysfunction at work here, but that’s for another day. For now, let’s accept that given the very visible behaviour on streets and parks, it’s time to stop pretending that the vast majority of children, teenagers or college students are practising any form of social distancing. Social distancing has gone out the window.

As one frustrated school principal said to me, “They’re saying we can’t have children sitting together in a classroom the way they used to — and yet every time I look out the window or walk down the street I see all our pupils out and about, hanging out and playing together the way they always used to. It’s crazy.”

So if primary school pupils, second-level students and college students are all out there mixing without restriction or concern, what on earth is the point of all this chest-thumping and navel-gazing about the need to impose potentially damaging social distancing restrictions on the schools when they re-open next autumn?

I really don’t understand what the TUI, the ASTI and the INTO are on about. The TUI said recently classrooms were crowded workplaces which could not be treated as if they enjoyed “some magical immunity from the risk that characterises other workplaces.” The INTO is looking for clearer guidance on the situation, while ASTI warned it would be “very concerned” if physical distancing in schools “deviated from what existed in wider society.”

Guys, as far as most adults and the vast majority of children, teenagers and twenty-something college students are concerned, physical distancing in wider society has vanished! Look out your window! Walk down your street! There is no real physical distancing going on. None!

The government is having a struggle to even convince people to wear masks on public transport or in shops! So if schools are not to deviate from what is happening in wider society, then let the schools re-open as normal next autumn, just as Minister McHugh is arguing.

I don’t see why the teaching unions seem so deeply alarmed at plans to reopen schools without social distancing given that, every day in the community, so many children, parents, neighbours, relatives and friends are all blatantly ignoring the government’s social distancing requirements?

The Minister for Education’s push for a full resumption for the autumn term, is entirely logical, sensible and practical. Mr McHugh has rightly said such restrictions would have a very negative impact. He has argued, and rightly, that the government wants to see a full return to normal education, that is, a full reopening of all schools with a return of all children to their normal education routine. What’s the alternative? Kids enjoying life as normal outside the schoolyard — but then being forced to behave inside school as if the country is still in the death-grip of a pandemic? Take a chill-pill, lads.