Coronavirus: Larger second-level classes could take place in parish halls, plan says

Roadmap for return to post-primary institutes suggests live-streaming within schools

The roadmap published on Monday for the return of students to post-primary schools following their closure amid the Covid-19 pandemic. File photograph: Getty Images/iStock

The roadmap published on Monday for the return of students to post-primary schools following their closure amid the Covid-19 pandemic. File photograph: Getty Images/iStock

 

While Taoiseach Micheál Martin on Monday announced plans for a full return to schools without the need for remote learning, live-streaming within schools may be on the cards for larger classes at second level.

The roadmap published on Monday for the return of students to post-primary schools following their closure amid the Covid-19 pandemic advises to consider the use of live-streaming for some students in larger classes that cannot be fully accommodated in the one room or area.

The roadmap says that students who cannot be in the main classroom “could watch live from a satellite room or area in the school under supervision by a teacher. Students could be rotated on an equitable basis to the satellite room/area.” Assembly areas, PE halls and other non-classroom areas should be used where necessary for this.

Community facilities like the local parish hall or community centre should be accessed where possible for larger classes if practical, according to the guidelines.

Much of the guidance on returning to schools is similar for both primary and post-primary students.

However, the advice on personal protective equipment (PPE) is different. The roadmap for post-primary students stresses that “it is not practical for students to wear masks properly for the duration of a school day.

“Older students should not be requested to wear a facial covering but those who wish to wear one where physical distancing is difficult to maintain should not be discouraged.”

Advice for staff

For staff, face coverings should not be required if physical distancing is possible and practised appropriately. “Wearing a face covering will conceal facial expression and make communication difficult.

“The use of a visor as an alternative may be considered where there is a concern regarding prolonged close contact and exposure to fluid/respiratory droplets,” the guidance says.

But face coverings or visors must be used where a 1m distance is not possible, the advice states. This would include a situation where there are more than 24 students in a 49sq m classroom that has been fully cleared.

“Staff or students who cannot wear face coverings or visors for health reasons should be based in other classrooms or areas wherever possible. Students should not be required to wear face coverings or visors for the duration of the whole school day.”

The advice for second level on social distancing is that a distance of at least 1m must be maintained, and a 2m distance where possible.

However, the roadmap also calls for flexibility and pragmatism, “recognising that the learning environment cannot be dominated by a potentially counterproductive focus on this issue”.

Minimising interaction

While second-level students previously moved from classroom to classroom, the recommendation is they should be based as much as possible in the one room, with seating configured to minimise interaction between students from different classes.

The plan also calls for increased separation between students, between students and teachers, and between staff members. However, it calls for flexibility when implementing required measures, with care to be taken “to avoid generating tension or potential conflict”.

Staff “will not always be able to maintain physical distance from their students and it is not appropriate that they would be expected to do so where this could have a detrimental impact ”, the roadmap says.

However, there should be an avoidance of “close contact at face-to-face level, such as remaining standing rather than sitting beside/crouching down” beside others.

For classroom reconfiguration at this level, a “one-size-fits-all model is not appropriate and schools are best placed to decide their own configuration”, the plan says. But the larger classes should be in the largest rooms, and “room layouts should not necessarily be confined to rows [of desks], but arrangements such as diagonals” should be considered to maximise space.

Schools are also advised to review their timetables and to consider staggered lunch and break times to maximise the availability of large spaces over the day.