No plans to reopen schools before September
Varadkar said ‘among the safest things’ the State can do in coming months is to reopen schools
The Department of Education said that decisions in relation to schools reopening and operating in September would be underpinned by the advice of the National Public Health Emergency Team. Photograph: Getty Images
The Department of Education says it is not planning to reopen schools prior to September despite latest research showing children are not substantially contributing to the spread of Covid-19.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said on Wednesday that “among the safest things” the State can do in the coming months is to reopen schools for children, raising fresh questions over the time-line for reopening schools and childcare facilities.
His comments followed a report by the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) which found there was nothing to indicate children transmit the virus at substantially higher levels to other age categories.
A spokesman for the department on Wednesday evening said that decisions in relation to schools reopening and operating in September would be underpinned by the ongoing advice of the National Public Health Emergency Team.
“Engagement is under way with stakeholders in the education sector to develop contingency plans for the reopening and operation of schools in an environment that may require social distancing and other public health requirements,” the spokesman said.
He added that this work would be based on a new national return to work safely protocol, and would also be informed by guidance and experience from other jurisdictions.
“A core objective of the contingency plans will be to ensure that schools and other education settings can reopen and operate in a safe manner that is consistent with public health advice,” the department spokesman added.
Issues around school reopening are being considered by a primary education forum which includes stakeholders in the sector such as teachers and school managers, as well as a second-level advisory group.
Groups who were present at the latest meetings, held on Wednesday, said there was no indication of an earlier return to school than had been planned to date.
The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) said it was still working on the basis of a September return to school.
The INTO’s general secretary, John Boyle, said its primary concern was the safety of staff and pupils, and that it would work with the department and others bodies to draw up guidelines for how schools would operate.
The Irish Primary Principals Network also said reopening schools was a “complex project” which would involve support and guidelines for boards of management and school leaders over the coming weeks and months.
Earlier on Wednesday, Mr Varadkar said he was conscious of the fact that some countries in Europe never fully closed their schools, and some never fully closed their childcare facilities.
“I think it wouldn’t be a good reflection on us as a society for us to be the last people who are able to reopen our schools and reopen our childcare facilities.
“But we need to make sure we do it safely, and work with the education sector and the childcare sector to make sure that it’s possible.
“But it is encouraging that there is growing evidence that those who are at least risk from the virus are children, young people, and on like, for example with influenza, they don’t appear to be super-spreaders. And I think that is very significant.”
Hiqa deputy chief executive and director of health technology assessment Dr Máirín Ryan said: “While the evidence is limited it appears that children are not substantially contributing to the spread of Covid-19 in their household or in schools.”
While there was high transmission of Covid-19 among adults aged 25 years or older, she pointed out one study which showed transmission was lower in younger people, particularly in those under 14 years of age.