Only seven out of 125 students turned up for classes Monday morning at a coronavirus affected primary school which was instructed to remain open against the wishes of the school authorities.
As Mark Loftus, principal of Claremorris Boys National School in Co Mayo is in isolation, permanent teacher Elaine O'Malley has taken over as acting principal.
Ms O’Malley told The Irish Times the school will be remaining open until the Christmas break as ordered, by the Department of Education.
The school informed parents last Thursday night it was to close the following day until January 5th due to a dozen cases of Covid-19 among its pupils.
However, department officials contacted the school on Friday afternoon to say it could not close because public health authorities had not authorised such a move.
Ms O’Malley described the instruction by the department as “disappointing”.
“The principal and the board of management took the decision to close in the best interests of pupils, their families and the community. I feel it was the best decision,” she said.
“They are the people who know the school. They know the situation. They are here. The decision to close was overturned by other people who are not here.”
Ms O’Malley stressed that the parents who sent their children to school were perfectly entitled to do so.
“It’s up to everybody to make their own decision, whatever they think is right.”
As Ms O’Malley spoke she was interrupted by Lucy Dsiurzynska, the mother of a former pupil, who turned up with a gift of a cream cake for the school staff on duty. “The parents and the entire community appreciate what the school is doing and the stand it took,” Ms Dsiurzynska said.
“The principal (Mr Loftus) made a wise decision to close,” she said. “There are a lot of cases in Claremorris now. They (the Department of Education) should listen to the principal. He doesn’t want any more people to get sick”.
On local radio at the weekend, Mr Loftus said parents who wished to keep their child at home would have his full support and that online learning would be made available.
Mr Loftus said the school was “reluctantly” reopening to acknowledge the department directive but pledged he would support any decision of parents to keep their children at home until after the Christmas holidays.
He said the insistence of the department that the school should remain open was very frustrating.
He indicated he had massive support on his stand from parents and school boards of managements around the country.
Mr Loftus said it didn’t “make a whole lot of sense” that 100 people would not be allowed in a vast space like Croke Park but it was expected that 125 pupils could go into a classroom situation where there is Covid-19 present.
On Saturday, the school website reported that as of November 22nd up to last Saturda, December 12th, 16 people attending the school have tested positive, 13 per cent of the total enrolment.
Board of management autonomy
On Monday morning, Mr Loftus questioned the autonomy of the boards of management in schools to make decisions for community good.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Claire Byrne show he said the situation was that the board of management of the school had to report to the Minister of Education. The majority of members of the board were not involved in education, they were volunteers, but they still ended up being legally responsible for the school.
Mr Loftus said that while the right to life and the right to education were important, so too was the right to feel safe in school. “We want to minimise the crisis in our school and in our wider community.”
If there was an emergency situation where there was no heat or power in the school, then the board of management would have the authority to make a decision to close, he said. This situation highlighted the autonomy that boards of management have, he said. “The system needs to be reformed,” he urged.