Families holidaying abroad may jeopardise reopening of schools

Trips to Portugal or Spain risk spreading virus in schools, principals’ group warns

The National Association of Principals and Deputies has warned parents against heading abroad on holidays. File photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

The National Association of Principals and Deputies has warned parents against heading abroad on holidays. File photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

 

Parents who bring their families on holiday abroad risk jeopardising the safe reopening of schools in September, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

Alan Mongey, president of the National Association of Principals and Deputies and principal of Coláiste Bhaile Chláir, a 1,000-pupil secondary school in Co Galway, warned parents against heading abroad on holidays.

“If parents want students returning to school in September, well, then going off on foreign holiday to Portugal or Spain is going to place significant challenges on the ability of schools to accept those students in through the doors at the beginning of September,” he said.

“This is all about trying to keep Covid-19 out of schools and trying to maintain safe, healthy practices within schools.”

The Oireachtas Covid-19 committee heard from primary and secondary principals’ representatives who said they want a full return of all students to school in late August and early September.

However, they warned this will only be possible if schools are properly funded to ensure school reopening can take place in a way that is safe for students and staff.

The Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN) said additional money for cleaning, training, supervision and support is needed in order to fully implement public health guidelines for school reopening.

Substitute cover, in particular, will be crucial and teaching principals will need to be provided with additional leadership and management time.

“Simply put, they cannot be expected to teach as well as lead their schools through the reopening phase,” said Páiric Clerkin, IPPN chief executive.

“ To enable schools to manage during the reopening phase, substitute cover is needed for every absence.”

Mr Clerkin said the centralised procurement and distribution to schools of cleaning material and personal protective equipment will ease the burden on schools.

Training

But he said specific training is required for cleaning staff, staff reps, compliance officers and school leaders.

Mr Mongey said secondary school principals also want to see a full return of all students to school in late August-September, provided that schools are funded to do so safely.

The alternative, he said, was a blended learning approach which would have a huge economic and educational cost.

Schools will need to be funded to employ staff to ensure schools are kept clean and that school leaders are supported to develop new and safe routines for students and staff.

However, he said staffing levels were cut during the last recession and have not been fully restored.

“I have 1,000 pupils in my school and almost 100 members of staff. At present, I have one cleaner funded through the resources I get,” he said.

This, he said would be nowhere near enough to comply with safety guidelines for reopening schools.

He also said the supervision of school students and ensuring physical distancing is maintained will be a major challenge.

“On wet, windy, cold days, when you have every student squeezed into classrooms and corridors around the school . . . Yes, the vast majority of students are well behaved and will follow the guidelines, but teenagers are teenagers, and young people are young people, and they continue to push the boundaries not just at home but in school . . . So, a huge amount of support is going to be required for supervision at lunch-times.”

Both principals’ groups acknowledged that implementing physical distancing in classrooms will be very challenging, but said it was possible if the rights supports are in place.

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