Reopening of schools to be prioritised, public health doctors say

Special needs schools most seriously affected by closures, Dr Louise Kyne says

Paediatricians and public health doctors have called for the reopening of schools to be prioritised in support of children’s developmental and mental health needs.

The call by the faculties of paediatrics and public health medicine at the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland follows the publication of a new report highlighting urgent actions required to address the full impact of school closures, especially in special education.

The report, by the HSE’s national clinical programme for paediatrics and neonatology, says this is particularly important for children affected by poor housing, poverty, cultural differences or those living in difficult home circumstances.

"Children's needs must be a priority as we work through this protracted Covid-19 pandemic," according to Dr Louise Kyne, dean of the faculty of paediatrics. "Emergency learning in the home is difficult for families. This report recommends that every effort should be made to enable schools to remain open during lockdown."


“Risks must be balanced, but the faculty of paediatrics considers that the reopening of schools should be facilitated as a priority.”

Dr Kyne said this particularly applied to special needs schools, as this group were most seriously affected by closures.

Dean of the faculty of public health medicine, Prof Emer Shelley, warned that adverse childhood events can have a lifelong impact on health and wellbeing, and said Covid-19 restrictions carry extra risk for disadvantaged children.

“Public health colleagues will provide all possible support to the stakeholders in education to enable and support schools to reopen safely. While there are disadvantaged children in all schools, sequencing of return to school should start with children with special educational needs and those in DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools Scheme) schools.”

School closures could potentially have life-lasting effects on children, especially those in vulnerable groups, according to report co-author, Dr Ellen Crushell.

The report, which was completed during the second surge of Covid-19 last November, recommends that “senior decision-makers” in collaboration with public health officials “should make every effort to enable and support schools to remain open throughout lockdown”.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a former heath editor of The Irish Times.