Schools for children with special needs set to reopen next month

Government planning for a ‘full return to school in late August and September’

Minister for Education Joe McHugh said strict social distancing requirements were ‘neither practical nor possible’ for a summer programme across more than 200 schools. File Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA Wire

Minister for Education Joe McHugh said strict social distancing requirements were ‘neither practical nor possible’ for a summer programme across more than 200 schools. File Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA Wire

 

Schools will reopen next month for children with special needs without any requirement for strict social distancing.

The move is seen as significant trial run for for the planned full reopening of schools to all children in late August and September.

In the Dáil on Wednesday, Minister for Education Joe McHugh said strict social distancing requirements were “neither practical nor possible” for a summer programme across more than 200 schools.

However, he said prevention and control measures - such as handwashing and rules for dealing with a suspected case - will be in place to manage risks.

He restated that it was the Government’s intention to see a “full return to school in late August and September” in line with individual schools’ usual timetables.

Detailed public health advice is due to published on Thursday for schools taking part in the summer programme.

Interim public health advice will be kept under review to ensure it is informed by the latest evidence on Covid in advance of the re-opening of schools at the end of August.

“I know of schools who have already communicated to parents and students their first day back after the summer holiday - albeit noting that this will be subject to appropriate arrangements and guidelines which are currently being worked on.

“It is worth reiterating again we are between nine and 10 weeks before schools are scheduled to re-open. This gives us time to continue to consult with the public health experts to develop and plan appropriate guidance.”

Among the plans to support the reopening of all schools in late August include

on-line training on safety measures for schools, parents and students; additional resources for enhanced cleaning; and hand-sanitisers for every classroom to be provided by the department.

However, Solidarity and People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said the Government was trying to “ put a square peg in a round hole” by squeezing students into some of the most overcrowded classes in the EU while striving for physical distancing.

He said splitting classes and hiring additional teachers was the only safe way to reopen schools.

Separately, Mr McHugh said in excess of 200 schools have registered to run a summer education programme for students with special needs, while 9,200 children have registered for home-based programmes.

In addition, a further 210 disadvantaged or Deis primary schools have expressed an interest to participate a summer camp for students towards the end of August. At second level, 14 schools have registered with a number of others considering participating in the programme.

“It is fantastic to see this level of response and it is a real demonstration of the commitment of local schools to their local communities,” Mr McHugh said.

However, Sinn Féin’s education spokesman Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire said the numbers due to take part in the programme were only half of what had been projected for an “expanded” programme this year.

He said a lack of clarity and uncertainty over the reopening of schools had contributed to confusion and uncertainty on the part of schools and parents and dented participation in the programme.