Schools will reopen on Monday for Leaving Certs and junior infants to second class, Minister confirms

Norma Foley says target is for returning all children to school by April 12th

Schools will reopen on a phased basis to hundreds of thousands of primary and secondary pupils from March 1st onwards, Minister for Education Norma Foley ha confirmed. Photograph: Julien Behal

Schools will reopen on a phased basis to hundreds of thousands of primary and secondary pupils from March 1st onwards, Minister for Education Norma Foley ha confirmed. Photograph: Julien Behal

 

Schools will reopen on a phased basis to hundreds of thousands of primary and secondary pupils from March 1st onwards, Minister for Education Norma Foley has confirmed.

The following phases have been agreed with public health authorities and education stakeholders:

March 1st: Junior, senior infants, first and second class will return at primary while sixth years will return at secondary. Special schools will also return to full attendance, while children will return to early start pre-school classes and early intervention special classes.

March 8th: Early Childhood Care and Educationpreschool scheme (mainly three to five year olds ) due to reopen.

March 15th: Target date for return of the remainder of primary school children return – third to sixth class - along with fifth year students at second level. This date will be reviewed.

March 29th: Early learning and care (from birth to six years) and school-age childcare services (up to 14 years) to reopen.

Monday 12th April: Target date for return to in-school education for remainder of secondary students : first to fourth year students.

Ms Foley said remote teaching and learning provision for students in each category will cease once in-school provision commences for each group of students.

Low risk

Ms Foley said the Department of Health and the HSE have reaffirmed that schools are low risk environments and that a gradual phased reopening can occur at this time.

She said public health authorities have reviewed the measures put in place to ensure safe operation of schools and are satisfied that infection prevention and control measures will keep the school community safe during this period if rigorously adhered to.

They have emphasised that all measures must be followed carefully by students, staff and parents.

Ms Foley also confirmed that there will be a period of time between each phase to assess the impact of reopening on aspects of community transmission.

She said it was vital that we continue to make progress in controlling the spread of Covid-19 so students can return to and continue attending school.

“I acknowledge that a phased re-opening is challenging for many people, with children of different age groups in the same families returning at different times,” she said.

“The purpose of managing this cautious phased return is to continue to limit the mobility of the population and curb the spread of the virus.”

She has asked all parents to review Covid-19 symptoms to ensure that children who are ill do not attend school.

Additional needs

The announcement does not provide for the priority return of children with additional needs in mainstream classes, unlike an earlier version of the school reopening plan produced in January.

Adam Harris, chief executive of the autism charity AsIAm, said the plans were a “betrayal” of children with additional needs and will see, for example, fifth-year secondary school pupils prioritised ahead of nine year olds with additional needs.

School staff unions have said they will support and facilitate the reopening of the schools in line with public health advice.

The Teachers’ Union of Ireland said a continuing review of the situation is needed by public health authorities, while the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland  said it will work with authorities to ensure necessary arrangements and supports are in place.

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation said while it was satisfied that additional safeguards were in place - such as flexible arrangements for high-risk staff - it will continue to seek additional measures.

They include a mandatory face mask policy for pupils in senior primary classes, air ventilation monitors and regular antigen testing.

Fórsa, which represents special needs assistants, said it supported the reopening but expressed disappointment that “no progress” has been made on prioritising vaccination for staff in special education.