No green light for school Christmas plays or in-person parent-teacher meetings

Plans to resume face-to-face school events on hold due to high rates of Covid-19

Department of Education officials had been planning to relax existing guidelines to allow more extra-curricular activities, school excursions and school events.  File photograph: iStock

Department of Education officials had been planning to relax existing guidelines to allow more extra-curricular activities, school excursions and school events. File photograph: iStock

 

Schools have not been given the green light to host Christmas plays, fundraisers or face-to-face parent-teaching meetings.

Department of Education officials had been planning to relax existing guidelines to allow more extra-curricular activities, school excursions and school events.

However, changes have been paused following concern over the number of Covid-19 cases of children of primary school age and in the wider community.

Séamus Mulconry, general secretary of the Catholic Primary Schools Management Association, which supports more than 2,800 schools, said he was “not massively hopeful” of any change in guidance between now and Christmas.

“It’s a big disappointment for schools and school communities but hopefully, after Christmas, things will start to return to normal,” he said.

“We’ve been looking for updated guidance around these issues for some time. We’re aware the department had prepared draft guidance, but in light of the volatile public health situation, they haven’t released it. So, we’re advising schools to following the existing guidelines.”

Schools are being advised by the department to continue holding parent-teacher meetings online or over the phone, while open days are being replaced with short videos or online presentations.

Parental involvement is being encouraged using digital platforms such as Seesaw, Google Classroom and email instead of in-school events.

Mr Mulconry said his association has been receiving hundreds of calls from schools seeking to resume face-to-face events.

“Immediately after the mid-term we had 120 calls from schools on one day, and 80-90 per cent wanted to know if the guidance was changing,” he said.

“It’s an indication of the pressure that schools and principals are under. We’re very concerned about the welfare of principals who have to cope with these restrictions and we’re urging parents to understand the pressure that local school communities are under.”

Meanwhile, work is ongoing to introduce rapid antigen testing for Covid-19 in primary schools.

At a meeting with education stakeholders on Wednesday, Department of Education officials confirmed they had been asked by Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan to work with public health authorities to deliver antigen testing of close contacts in “specific circumstances” in primary schools.

Department officials indicated that detailed arrangements for the testing programme will be available soon.

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) general secretary John Boyle said no timeline had been given. However, he warned that “time is of the essence” and schools cannot afford any additional delays.

He said there was an alarming rate of Covid-19 infection among children of primary school age with an estimated 6,000 children absent from school as a result.

“Antigen testing could become an important additional infection prevention and control measure in schools. Political leadership is essential to ensure swift action on this front,” Mr Boyle said.

At the meeting with education stakeholders, Dr Abigail Collins, the HSE’s clinical lead on child health, set out the importance of those with Covid-19 symptoms staying away from schools and confirmed that her department will amplify this message in the coming days.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said on Sunday that it was likely that antigen testing would be deployed in school settings before Christmas.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin added on Monday that non-Covid respiratory viruses such as respiratory virus are currently more problematic for school-age children than Covid-19 in terms of hospital admissions.

He said anyone showing any signs of symptoms of respiratory illness should not go to school.

He said he expected antigen tests will be used within schools “in line with advice from public health” after the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said that antigen testing may suitable in some cases for children.