Back in school: ‘We’re going to work really hard to stay open’

Students are ‘a little uneasy’ starting the new academic year amid the Covid-19 pandemic

Transition Year students at Mount Sackville Secondary School in Chapelizod use a one way system along the corridors while socially distancing on their first day back. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Transition Year students at Mount Sackville Secondary School in Chapelizod use a one way system along the corridors while socially distancing on their first day back. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

Mount Sackville Secondary School in Co Dublin was one of the first schools in the country to return on Tuesday after more than five months of being closed to students.

Over 110 transition year students attended orientation at the school in Chapelizod, which involved a run-through on how to wipe down their desks, hand sanitising, maintaining a one-way system on corridors and where they should enter and leave the premises each day.

Other year groups are due to be brought in over the coming days on a staggered basis.

Eileen Cuddihy-Higgins, principal at the fee-paying girls’ school, said students were “a little uneasy” upon returning.

“When they arrived we were all a little bit anxious and a bit nervous but now they’re leaving, they’re the same as ever with the same energy,” she said.

“None of them have been in an environment like this, to be in a confined space where they have to really maintain definite guidelines.

“It is not the building they left, it was full of colour and voices. Everything is stripped back bare to make sure we could follow the guidelines we were given.”

Response and responsibility

The Department of Education confirmed earlier this month that the 51 private secondary schools in the State will not automatically receive funding for safety measures such as hand sanitiser, cleaning, additional supervision and altering classrooms to comply with physical distancing rules.

The department said its €375 million Covid-19 response fund was available to all schools in the “free education sector” while the fee-charging sector could submit an application seeking support “where it can demonstrate difficulties in implementing necessary control measures outlined in the plan”.

Ms Cuddihy-Higgins said they received a small amount of funding for hand sanitiser and PPE but “nothing else”.

“In other times there are many things we wouldn’t get from the Department of Education because we’re a fee-charging school – that you can understand. But we’re in the middle of a pandemic and it’s about staff and students returning safely,” she said.

Orla Walsh, deputy principal of the school said, “Our response and our responsibility are to the students and the staff and we are looking after them. If the department decide to differentiate that’s something we’ll have to live with.”

Dr Walsh said, “When we are in school we need the interaction, we need to create that fertile ground between leader and learner that means something happens . . . That’s what schools are all about. We’re going to work really hard to stay open.”