Major funding package planned to help schools reopen ‘as fully as possible’

One-metre distancing rule for students is ‘flexible’, says Department of Education

A  major financial package is intended to help schools reopen ‘as fully as possible’ in the autumn

A major financial package is intended to help schools reopen ‘as fully as possible’ in the autumn

 

The Government is working on a major financial package to help schools reopen “as fully as possible” in the autumn, including extra funding for substitution cover, cleaning and supports for school principals.

The Department of Education’s top priority is to reopen all schools as “fully, normally and safely as possible at the start of the new school year”, its secretary general Seán Ó Foghlú will tell the Oireachtas Covid-19 committee on Friday.

Mr Ó Foghlú will say there is flexibility in the interim public health guidelines which stipulate a one-metre physical distancing rule should apply for most students.

While teachers’ unions have warned these rules mean a full return to school may not be possible, Mr Ó Foghlú says the guidelines state that they must be applied in a practical way and that classrooms “cannot be dominated by a potentially counterproductive focus on the issue”.

As economic activity increases with the easing of the lockdown, public health officials have again warned against non-essential trips overseas after it emerged that 15 out of the 23 new cases reported on Thursday were “directly or indirectly” related to travel.

All of the new cases of Covid-19 were in people aged under 44, and 77 per cent were among under 25-year-olds, the National Public Health Emergency Team reported.

This was the first time officials had seen such a concentration of cases among younger people, acting chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said.

Face-coverings

Meanwhile, the wearing of face-coverings on public transport is still not mandatory, two weeks after the Government announced the measure.

Regulations to provide for the mandatory wearing of face-coverings on public transport “are being prepared and are at an advanced stage”, the Department of Health said last night.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) on Thursday recommended the wearing of face-coverings for all visits to hospitals, GP practices and pharmacies, but said it had no plans to make this measure compulsory.

Another six deaths of people diagnosed with Covid-19 were reported by NPHET on Thursday. This brings to 1,743 the total number of deaths from the disease in the Republic.

The 23 new confirmed cases of the virus reported on Thursday brings the total number of cases to 25,565.

In relation to schools, the Department of Education is in discussion with the Department of Public Expenditure over the scale of the funding package needed to support schools to reopen.

Some sources say it could end up running to in excess of €100 million over the course of the coming academic year.

The estimated costs for hygiene services in schools alone – such as hand sanitiser and cleaning services – is projected to run to €25 million between September and December.

“We know there will be costs associated with reopening and not just in terms of hand sanitisation or cleaning regimes but in terms of teacher and SNA substitution and support for school leaders,” Mr Ó Foghlú says in his opening statement to the committee.

Scoping

Scoping and planning for the reopening of schools is due to conclude by the end of this month, so schools have sufficient time to prepare at a local level for their reopening.

“There will also be comprehensive communication with students and parents so that they are fully informed,” he states.

Mr Ó Foghlú is also due to confirm that work is taking place to address logistical challenges, such as school transport, as well as issues around how to best assess students in the Junior Cycle and Leaving Cert exams next year.

Potential adjustments to the curriculum are being worked on in conjunction with the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment.

Mr Ó Foghlú will also emphasise the importance of staff, students and families in helping to prevent the spread of the virus in schools.

This, he says, means ensuring those who have symptoms or suspect they have the virus stay out of school.

Staff and students will also be required to maintain best practice in terms of hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette in school and by minimising social contacts and respecting physical distancing practices.

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