‘We can’t risk bringing Covid into our home’

Zara Flynn says she has no choice but to keep her children James (14) and Alice (6) at home

Zara Flynn and Tim Mackey with James (14), Alice (6), Sam (2) and Chewy. Photograph: Tom Honan

Zara Flynn would like her children James (14) and Alice (6) to be able to go to school, but says she can't take that risk.

She is a carer to her mother Emer (66), who was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, a rare form of cancer of the blood, as well as her grandmother Elizabeth (95).

“My mother is very high risk. Over 90 per cent of people with her condition are vulnerable to Covid and it has proven to be fatal in 37 per cent of cases. I provide regular and essential support for her.

Hospital Report

“There was a case of Covid-19 reported in my son’s year at his school, so school is not a safe place. We simply can’t risk bringing Covid into her home, so we wear masks, visors and gloves when entering the home.”


As a result, she has withdrawn James from the secondary school he attends in Dublin and has formally applied to Tusla to homeschool her daughter.

Ideally, she says, they would be able to avail of remote learning at the schools which they attend.

However, she said under the rules issued by the Department of Education as applied by their schools, they are not entitled to this kind of support.

“I implored my son’s secondary school to provide it and they did for a while, when he was being tested for Covid, but then it was pulled suddenly.

“I feel like he is being discriminated again now because he should be entitled to an education in a way which doesn’t put his family at risk. Yet, the official approach is blinkered and rigid: it only allows for remote learning for children who are directly at risk.

James is very worried about making his granny ill. He is very close to her. He's even written a letter to the Ombudsman for Children about this

“He doesn’t tick the boxes and there are many other forgotten families in similar if not worse circumstances who worry that they’ll bring home Covid and end up killing a sibling or family member.”

Official guidelines say it is in the interests of children’s wellbeing that all young people attend school, with the exception of those at very high risk.

Mental health

Zara, however, feels this policy risks damaging the mental health of children who are fearful of passing on the virus to family members.

“James is very worried about making his granny ill. He is very close to her. He’s even written a letter to the Ombudsman for Children about this.

“He can be as safe as he can be, and he is, but if he is going to school there is every chance he will contract Covid.”

She is homeschooling Alice, meanwhile, and has taken her youngest son Sam (2) out of childcare to help reduce the risk of any virus transmission.

The solution for families in this situation, she says, is being more flexible and giving schools the option to provide remote learning to a wider number of students.

“The system is too rigid. I don’t see what the Government has to be afraid of in being more flexible. The pandemic has opened so many people’s eyes to what is possible. I don’t see why blended learning shouldn’t be an option for more students. It doesn’t make sense.”

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent