Q&A: Will my child return to school full-time in autumn?

Plan is to reopen schools fully from late August as long as virus remains suppressed

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar says it would reflect badly on Ireland were it to be the only country Europe where schools did not re-open in September following the coronavirus pandemic. Video: Oireachtas TV


Will schools reopen normally in late August/September?

The Government is finalising a major financial package to help schools reopen fully in the autumn for all pupils on a full-time basis. Schools won’t reopen “normally”, however. There will be physical distancing rules in place, class bubbles – where a class group limits contact with others – and a range of new safety rules for children and parents.

So, will all pupils be able to attend school?

The plan is to reopen schools fully without relying on distance learning, as long as the virus remains suppressed. However, if a school has to close in the event of an outbreak, schools will be expected to maintain continuity of learning, as they did when they closed last March.

What’s in the Government’s school reopening plan?

A multimillion-euro package – due to be formally announced early next week – is due to include extra funding for substitution cover along with enhancing cleaning and hygiene routines.

In addition, there will be detailed guidelines for schools with templates on safe classroom layouts, along with rules to follow in the event of a Covid-19 outbreak. There will also be grants to fund structural alterations to classrooms and improve bathrooms for hand-washing.

What kind of physical distancing rules will be in place for students?

Latest public health guidelines state that a one-metre distance is required between students, with the exception of junior infants to second class.

A closer reading of the guidelines states that the one-metre rule may apply for pods of pupils at primary level “where possible”.

The caveat is seen as crucial by school leaders to facilitating a full return to school at primary level.

The one-metre distance is stricter at second level, but class sizes are typically smaller, so it’s not as pressing an issue.

School managers have signalled that in the vast majority of cases they will be able to facilitate full classes.

Will parents end up paying more in voluntary contributions this
year in light of all these new safety measures?

The Government has signalled that hand sanitiser and personal protective equipment will be centrally contracted and distributed to schools. In addition, safety posters and signs are also due to be made available to schools.

Will school transport be able to run in light of the Covid-19 threat?

Plans are being advanced for school transport to run with some modifications. Over-13s will be advised to wear face masks on board, while supplies of hand sanitiser, tissues, gloves or wipes will be supplied on board the vehicles for staff and children. Groups of children from the same family may be advised to sit together. Children will also be advised to maintain physical distancing while waiting for buses and to disembark one at a time.

Is there any advice on wearing school uniforms?

There has been some speculation that school uniform policies might be relaxed on the basis that wearing the same clothes may pose a public health threat. However, there is no reference to the wearing of clothes or uniforms in interim public health guidance to schools.

The department has no role or policy on wearing uniforms, so it will likely be a matter for individual school boards of management.

The only reference to clothes in public health guidance relates to creches or childcare facilities and only applies in cases where a child has been diagnosed with Covid-19. In this case, it says clothes should be washed at the highest temperature the material can stand, with items tumble-dried and ironed if required.

How will teachers’ unions react? Will they allow members return to school?

Teachers’ unions have said that they support the reopening of schools as long as it is safe to do so and supports are in place. They have said they will abide by public health guidelines, as long as there are no attempts to cut corners.

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