Physical distancing and pods to remain in schools after summer

Infection prevention and control measures in schools to remain in place

Students at Lucan Community College continue classes amid pandemic related precautions. File photograph: Enda O’Dowd

Students at Lucan Community College continue classes amid pandemic related precautions. File photograph: Enda O’Dowd

 

Schools are being advised to continue with public health measures such as physical distancing, student pods and enhanced cleaning of classrooms after the summer holidays.

While the Government is planning for a phased return to offices from August or September, the Department of Education is telling schools that infection prevention and control measures in schools will remain in place in the new academic year.

A department spokeswoman said schools are being advised to reopen in September in line with their Covid-19 response plans, in the interests of protecting pupils, their parents and school staff.

Schools will continue to be supported in terms of the additional resources necessary to provide for these measures, she added.

“It is acknowledged that this has resulted in some changes to normal school practices and traditions but school communities have demonstrated remarkable resilience and innovation,” she said.

Public health measures which schools are required to undertake include promoting good hand hygiene, providing extra cleaning and maintaining physical distancing.

While face masks are not required at primary level, they look set to remain a requirement at second level.

Public health experts say these risk mitigation measures have played a key role in keeping Covid-19 transmission rates low in schools.

HSE data indicates that the positivity rate among close contacts of confirmed cases in schools has remained relatively low since they reopened earlier this year, while most major outbreaks in schools have been linked to events in the community such as social gatherings.

While school reopening plans are due to be updated during the summer, a department spokeswoman said it is “not envisaged that there will be any updates that require schools to take action in advance of normal reopening”.

The plans are based on the Government’s “work safely protocol” which reflects the most up-to-date public health advice for the workplace and sets out the range of measures required to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

The department said it will undertake a communications campaign with parents and students/pupils in advance of school reopening to inform and remind them of the arrangements in place in schools operating during the pandemic.

Targeted information

This will include targeted information at new pupils entering primary and post-primary schools to ensure they are familiar with the new arrangements.

“The department will continue to work closely with all of the education partners and public health specialists so that schools will continue to be supported when they reopen for the 2021/22 school year,” the spokeswoman added.

The Government has provided financial supports totalling almost €640 million to assist with the reopening of schools since last summer.

This includes hiring additional teachers, refurbishing and reconfiguring school buildings, enhanced cleaning, PPE, extra school transport costs and release days for principals.

The spokeswoman said schools will continue to be supported with resources to implement infection prevention and control measures for the 2021/22 school year.

Meanwhile, poorly ventilated schools will be provided with air monitors and air cleaners to help reduce the spread of Covid-19 under updated rules.

Official advice up to recently was that schools should have doors and windows open to increase natural ventilation and set any air conditioning systems to 100 per cent fresh air.

In a recent update, the department says these steps may now be supplemented by the use of carbon dioxide (CO2) monitors and, where needed, air cleaners.

The department said it will arrange for the provision to schools of carbon dioxide monitors “over the coming months”.