No plans to close schools early at Christmas, Department confirms

TUI says early closure could allow families to gather more safety over the festive period

The Department of Education has confirmed that there are no plans to extend the school break at Christmas despite calls from a teachers’ union to do so.

The Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) has said serious consideration should be given to closing schools for the Christmas break on the afternoon of Friday, December 18th rather than on Tuesday, December 22nd.

It says a longer lead-in time could allow families to gather more safety over the festive period and “protect the wellbeing of all in the school community”.

However, a spokesman for the department said scheduling of school holidays has been agreed for the purposes of standardising breaks at Christmas, Easter and mid-term.

“This is important to ensure certainty for the school community about the dates of school holidays,” the spokesman said. “There are no plans to alter the school break at Christmas.”

He added that latest information from public health authorities is that schools are proving to be safe spaces for children and staff.

“Transmission rates of Covid-19 in schools are low, much lower than the rate currently in the community,” he said.

Lost tuition time

The spokesman's comments echo those of Minister for Education Norma Foley, who said on Tuesday that it was not her intention to close schools early.

She told an Oireachtas education committee that she was aware children had lost tuition time due to Covid-19 closures earlier this year.

In addition, she said latest public health advice was that students were better served when they are in school.

“It is not our intention at this stage at all to extend the Christmas break,”she said.

“I am aware of the importance of children being in school. That is why we have worked hard – even in Level 5 – to keep schools open.”

However, TUI general secretary Michael Gillespie said teachers and students were "exhausted" after an "unprecedentedly difficult and draining" for school communities.

He said a once-off measure would be a positive signal of the department’s intention to protect the wellbeing of all in the school community.

It would also allow a longer lead-in time for students and teachers to restrict movements before meeting elderly or vulnerable relatives at Christmas, should public health advice at the time allow such family gatherings, he added.

However, Dr Illona Duffy, a Monaghan-based GP, said there was no medical evidence to support the idea that a week off school would make it safer to meet older or vulnerable relatives.

She told RTÉ that it can take up to a fortnight to develop symptoms, In addition, she said there was a risk that older children or teenagers may end up mixing in uncontrolled environments outside schools, where virus transmission rates are higher.

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