Huge anger in private schools over exclusion from Covid-19 reopening fund

Fee-paying sector not automatically eligible for €375m school support package

Minister for Education Norma Foley. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister for Education Norma Foley. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

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Fee-paying schools have warned the Department of Education that the health of students and staff is being jeopardised by their exclusion from a multimillion euro support package for reopening schools safely.

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.

A spokesman for the department confirmed that its €375 million Covid-19 response fund was being made available to all schools in the “free education sector”.

He said the fee-charging sector could submit an application seeking support “where it can demonstrate difficulties in implementing necessary control measures outlined in the plan”.

However, a number of school principals in the fee-paying sector, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there was huge anger over the move, which they said could compromise the health and safety of staff and students.

“Our parents are taxpayers, our teachers are State-employees, why are they any less worthy of protection than others?” asked one principal.

Another said some schools in the fee-charging sector cannot afford to adapt classrooms and find extra teachers in the absence of State support.

“We simply don’t have piles of spare cash lying around. Many schools like ours just about get by. We don’t get State funding for capital costs. We get less funding per student and teacher than the free sector. We’ve had to fundraise for every brick in this building. ”

‘Media kicking’

The Joint Managerial Body, which represents most private schools, said it was “engaged in ongoing dialogue” with officials in the department on these matters.

One private school, which declined to be identified, estimated that the cost of safely reopening to students would be about about €200,000.

Another principal accused the department of deliberately targeting private schools.

“Maybe they know that any time we’re in the media we get a kicking because there’s a perception that we all have lots of money.”

Separately, Minister for Education Norma Foley said significant progress was being made towards a full reopening of schools.

She said almost €160 million had issued to schools in direct funding to cover minor works, employing support staff to assist with reopening, cleaning costs and the provision of personal protective equipment.

Hundreds of thousands of posters on handwashing, face coverings and other hygiene measures are being sent to schools next week, while induction training videos will be available for for school staff.