Covid-19: Laois primary school closes following 13 positive cases

Information campaign due in new year aimed at keeping children with symptoms out of school

Portlaoise Educate Together National School, which has more than 400 pupils, told parents over the weekend that the school will close and lessons will take place online on Monday and Tuesday of this week. Photograph:  Oli Scarff/AFP

Portlaoise Educate Together National School, which has more than 400 pupils, told parents over the weekend that the school will close and lessons will take place online on Monday and Tuesday of this week. Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP

 

A primary school in Co Laois has closed on advice from public health authorities due to an outbreak of 13 confirmed cases of Covid-19.

Portlaoise Educate Together National School, which has more than 400 pupils, told parents over the weekend that the school will close and lessons will take place online on Monday and Tuesday of this week.

Last week, the school’s principal Sinead Harte expressed frustration that the schools had been refused permission to close after 11 cases were confirmed, resulting in more than 60 close contacts. This, in turn, led to four classes at the school being asked to stay at home.

However, in a message to parents over the weekend, the school said in light of rising numbers a decision to close the school has since been made in conjunction with the HSE and the Department of Education.

The move is likely to re-ignite the debate about the consistency of these decisions and whether school boards of management should be allowed to close without waiting for permission to do so from relevant authorities.

Last week, Claremorris Boys National School in Co Mayo was blocked from closing by the Department of Education after it recorded 16 cases.

However, Scoil Mhuire Killorglin in Co Kerry was advised to close after 17 confirmed cases were identified.

Factors

Public health sources say decisions to close schools are made on foot of detailed risk assessments and factors which are individual to each school .

The risk of transmission can be affected by factors such as school layout, class sizes, adherence to social distancing rules and the mixing of pupils outside school.

Páiric Clerkin, chief executive of the Irish Primary Principals’ Network, said schools should be trusted to make their own decisions to close on the basis that they know their school communities best.

However, Minister for Education Norma Foley has said public health authorities rather than schools should make these decision on the basis that they have the relevant experience and expertise,

She said school leaders should not have to make public health decisions and representative bodies were happy with this approach when it was agreed in advance of schools reopening in September.

In a separate development, all parents will be urged to ensure they keep children with any Covid-19 symptoms out of school in a new public information campaign due to get underway before schools reopen on January 6th.

It follows concerns over the potential impact of an increase in community transmission of the virus over the Christmas period on schools in January.

John Boyle, general secretary of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation, said the Department of Education has provided assurances to the union that it will “amplify public health messaging” prior to the reopening of schools.

“This is going to be a really important time in light of the mixing and congregating that will take place over the Christmas period,” he said.

“The message will need to be amplified to school communities between the 1st and 5th of January. We’ve done well in keeping the virus at bay and we want to get off to a good start in 2021. The best way we can do that is to ensure anyone with symptoms stays out of school.”

In addition, all teaching staff will be required to complete updated Covid-19 return-to-work forms stating that they are free of symptoms and have not been in close contact with known cases.

Teaching staff were required to complete these forms in late August.

School principals received an email from the Department of Education last week asking them to ensure that these forms are updated in advance of the reopening of schools on January 6th.