Department defends decision to close schools for second day

Some parents criticised move as an ‘overreaction’ on social media

School classrooms remained empty for a second day on Tuesday. Photograph: iStock

School classrooms remained empty for a second day on Tuesday. Photograph: iStock

 

The Department of Education has defended its decision to close all schools for a second day in the face of criticism from some parents.

Minister for Education Richard Bruton made the announcement shortly after 4pm on Monday following “careful consideration” by the department and the National Emergency Coordination Group.

However, some parents in areas that escaped relatively lightly have criticised the move over social media and questioned why individual schools were not given the authority to decide whether to open.

A spokeswoman for the department said: “This was not a decision that was taken lightly as it is recognised that the decision to close schools has a major impact on families and on the workforce.

“However, the decision was made in the interests of the safety of children and to provide clarity for everyone concerned.”

It is understood that allowing schools to decide whether to open on an individual basis was ruled out, partly on the basis that principals would have been required to check for damage to schools last night.

This would have contravened Met Éireann’s advice, given a status red warning was in place until after midnight.

The department spokeswoman said schools are expected to open tomorrow, where possible, and based on the individual circumstances of each school.

In relation to days lost for school tuition, Mr Bruton said his department will “take stock” and issue guidance after consultation with school management.

Schools that have been damaged have been urged to contact the department’s emergency works section, which provides funding for unforseen emergencies.

School management bodies and unions, meanwhile, said the department made the right decision to issue a blanket closure notice.

The Catholic Primary Schools Management Association, which supports more than 2,800 schools, said it fully endorsed the move.

“We absolutely support the department’s decision to close for a second day. It gives people a chance to assess any damage to schools. It was an entirely prudent and practical decision which we support,” said Seamus Mulconry, the association’s general secretary.

“There are 550,000 children in the primary school system alone. The southern and western seaboard, in particular, got a battering. There wasn’t time to check if they had electricity, running water or whether schools were structurally safe.”

The country’s biggest teachers union, the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO), also threw its weight behind the decision.

“The department made absolutely the right call. They had to take into account the safety of principals and teachers who would have been required to check last night if schools were able to open today,” said Peter Mullan of the INTO.

“Many schools are finding today that they have no electricity or running water, or that debris on the roads is making access difficult.”

The Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools also said it was the right call.

“The only way to determine whether schools are safe is to carry out a risk assessment. You don’t want to do that with 500 or 1,000 students in the building,”said Aine O’Sullivan, the association’s assistant general secretary. “It was the only call the department could make in the circumstances.”

The Joint Managerial Body, the managment body for second-level schools, also supported the move. “We very much accept that a call was needed at national level in the interests of oveall public safety, ” said John Curtis, the body’s general secretary.

Clive Byrne of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals said the department’s decision was prudent and appropriate.