Surge in applications among parents to homeschool children

Many concerned over the heath risks of returning children to crowded classrooms

Sinn Féin’s education spokesman Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire: ‘It is a disgrace that parents and relatives with underlying conditions have been kept in limbo.’ Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times

Sinn Féin’s education spokesman Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire: ‘It is a disgrace that parents and relatives with underlying conditions have been kept in limbo.’ Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times

 

Applications from parents to homeschool their children have surged in recent weeks, figures compiled by social services show.

The development comes amid concern among some families over the heath risks of children returning to crowded classrooms in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Tusla, the child and family agency, said a backlog of at least 326 homeschooling applications from families were waiting to be processed.

The number of applications received in August was more than three times the total submitted in the same month last year, rising from 79 to 280.

A Tusla spokesman said all applicants needed to be screened, processed and assessed before being placed on the home education register, which is a legal requirement for children not attending recognised schools.

A survey published by the Central Statistics Office this week indicated a high level of concern among parents whose children are returning to school. It also found that 6.5 per cent of parents said they would not send their children back to school due to Covid-19 concerns.

Many parents with high-risk medical conditions say they cannot risk sending their children back to school. They say official school reopening rules state that all children are expected to attend school – with the exception of children with “very high risk” medical conditions – and there is no provision for children of vulnerable parents.

No answers

Sinn Féin TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire called on Minister for Education Norma Foley to clarify whether online learning will be facilitated for these children.

“It is a disgrace that parents and relatives with underlying conditions have been kept in limbo, unsure whether they must potentially sacrifice their own health by sending their child back to school,” he said.

“I have no doubt this is also extremely distressing for the children themselves, who will worry that they may make their parent or relative sick by going to school.”

Jan Rynne, who has chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, said she has been unable to get answers on whether her children – Daniel (12) and Emily (15) – will be able avail of remote tuition.

“The Department of Education said it was a matter for individual schools, but the schools haven’t been able to say whether anything will be possible.”

Another parent with a high risk condition said: “It is terrible. I feel families like mine have been forgot through all of this. We are all very anxious about school return.”

Mr Ó Laoghaire also said it appeared that guidelines requiring schools to notify Tusla if a child misses more than 20 days of school in a year remain in place.

In a statement, Tusla said the Covid-19 pandemic has presented challenges for many families and it will adopt a “school population wide focus offering support to all students”.

In order to provide support to students who need it in the short-term, it said Tusla staff from other services will be reassigned temporarily to ensure it can meet the demand. It added that it was aware that some students will be absent for legitimate Covid-19-related health reasons and it will work with schools, students and their parents to support them as required as school returns.