Second-level students anxious about school return amid rising Covid-19 cases

Students critical of Department of Education reponse to teaching staff shortages

Students are anxious about the prospect of going back to school on Thursday with Covid-19 cases at record levels and believe a phased approach to reopening should be taken, a group representing second-level pupils has said.

The Irish Second-level Students’ Union (ISSU) said that announcing a full return to class with two days’ notice had seen school leaders rushing “to put in adequate risk-mitigation measures to ensure a safe return”.

It said the Department of Education had “not responded adequately to the shortages of school and teaching staff, and student absenteeism”.

It noted the “high levels of disruption that schools and students have experienced in the last term” and priority should be given to exam year students and those with special educational needs.

ISSU president Emer Neville said there was an urgent need to source Hepa filters for all classrooms and for additional adjustments to this summer's Leaving Cert and Junior Cert exam papers.

Ms Neville attended a briefing with the department on behalf of the ISSU this week and said it left students in a position of "major uncertainty".

“Schools will have little time to assess their absences and plan adequately for reopening schools safely.”

‘Lack of confidence’

She added that there was “a lot of anxiety” among students that they might catch Covid-19 and “bring it home to their families or miss even more school”.

Quinton Kelly, a sixth-year student, told the Irish Times he had "a lack of confidence" about whether it was safe to have all pupils returning to school.

“There is that bit of anxiety and uncertainty to what we face ahead as students. Case numbers have risen drastically and there is predicted to be mass school absences,” he said. “There is no cover for absent teachers. Even before Christmas I had seen the substitution crisis in place in schools on the ground.”

He said student absences also meant that teachers were focusing on “students who are physically in the classroom” and that those at home isolating, who may still wish to keep up with the curriculum, were “missing out on the online learning they should have access to”.

Mr Kelly said online learning had improved over the past year as students and teachers adjusted and became familiar with this method of learning.

“I would rather be at home where I know I can be safe than go to school knowing I could get Covid-19 or pass it on and cause an outbreak,” he said.