‘My children haven’t returned to school. We feel completely forgotten’

Mother says children cannot attend school due to her medical condition, but are not entitled to remote tuition

Michael and Jan Rynne with  Daniel (12) and Emily (15), who have not returned to school because of their mother’s medical condition.  Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/ The Irish Times

Michael and Jan Rynne with Daniel (12) and Emily (15), who have not returned to school because of their mother’s medical condition. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/ The Irish Times

 

Jan Rynne’s teenage children haven’t returned to school since it reopened last September.

Given her diagnosis of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia – a form of blood cancer – she says medical experts have advised her that she can’t take the risk of Covid-19 entering the home.

“My children are the victims of my disease, and they are forced to cocoon with me,” she says. “I’m heartbroken that they can’t go to school.”

Her son is in first year and hasn’t set foot in secondary school yet; her daughter is in third year and is not entitled to online tuition.

Under Department of Education rules, schools are only obliged to provide remote teaching to students who are categorised as very high risk.

“In my son’s case, out of his 11 subjects, three teachers Zoom him once or twice a week, which is better than nothing,” she says.

“In my daughter’s case, there’s nothing. She’s on Google classroom and can access the homework, but it’s very hard if you haven’t been there for the lessons.”

The family is not alone – although it is difficult to say, exactly, how many others are in a similar situation.

New figures show that while about 700 very high risk students are receiving online education, a further 2,600 children had not returned to school as of  last October for Covid-related reasons. They include children living with vulnerable family members who are not entitled to online tuition.

The department has suggested that many of these students are being home-schooled – there has been a spike of 1,300 applications for home-schooling – while hundreds of more students have since returned to school.

However, campaigners believe many students - such as the Rynnes - are not in receipt of any meaningful education due to department policies.

Rynne says the hardest part is that her attempts to get policies tweaked to allow her children to access remote learning have so far fallen on deaf ears.

‘Overly anxious’

“We do feel completely left behind,” she says. “We’ve been forgotten by the system. It has been the hardest year and the lack of validation has made it worse.”

Vaccines, she says, are not an immediate way out of it.

While Rynne received the first dose of the AstraZeneca jab, research shows individuals with her condition have a much lower antibody response than healthy individuals.

As a result, she has been advised to continue cocooning until there is herd immunity in the wider population.

Only last week, she says, there were positive cases in both her son’s and daughter’s schools.

“My kids have been the heroes on this,” she says. “They made the sacrifice to stay at home to keep me safe.

“Instead of having our situation validated, I feel we’ve been vilified. Whenever this issue is raised in the Dáil, the official response is that people in our situation are overly anxious. That’s just offensive.

“For my children, the danger is it knocks their belief in the system. We feel completely forgotten and let down. Schools will only do what they are told to do by the department.”