Concerns over school reopening plan

 

Sir, – Since the Government’s publication of the Roadmap for the Full Return to School and its associated documents (Home News, July 28th), the logistical challenges associated with returning to school have gone from challenging to unworkable for many post-primary schools across the country.

While the Government acknowledges that a “one size fits all” approach would not be appropriate for schools, it does nonetheless base its plans on classroom layouts of 49sqm with 24 students and one teacher – presumably based on the Post-Primary School Design Guidelines 2008 (1st ed). There doesn’t seem to be a recognition that many schools, their annexes and prefabs were built long before this and their classrooms are significantly smaller and class sizes significantly larger.

Confusion now exists around maintaining physical distancing in the school as it is only “recommended” that “staff should maintain a minimum of 1m distance and where possible 2m” from students while “allowing for some flexibility when needed”. This entire section serves as a homage to uncertainty.

Many teachers and other school employees feel that concern for their health and safety have been sacrificed and cast aside. Many ask if the predominant motive for the decree that all students will be back in school at the end of August is based on the best interests of the child or the parent?

The school outlined in the roadmap is more akin to a prison – isolated cells, curtailed freedoms, segregation from others and limits on congregating, stringent and staggered meal times, the removal of privileges, reduced physical activity with PE halls and recreation areas turned into classrooms, etc.

Maybe we should let go of the “hook or by crook” mentality and reflect on what the student experience of school will be like if all the above is in place, and on our duty of care to all members of our school communities. – Yours, etc,

JOHN MCHUGH,

Deputy Principal,

Loreto Secondary School,

Bray,

Co Wicklow.

Sir, – I am a stay-at-home mother of six, four of whom are attending secondary school. I have been looking for part-time work for the past seven months. I just signed myself up for a part-time course, which starts in September. It is in my interest to get my kids back to school and a normal routine. I also strongly agree that the best learning environment for children is a school-based setting.

Why am I concerned? When the Government announced “We will fully open the schools in September no matter what” it alarmed me. Lump our children back into school regardless of their safety and health and that of their grandparents? Shouldn’t we have heard, “We will ensure all relevant precautions and systems are in place to protect our children before they return to school”?

Back in February/March secondary schools were the first places the government shut down. Covid-19 had been contracted while the students were on skiing trips. The virus quickly spread around the schools and to their families, contrary to the rumours that children are not spreaders of Covid-19.

Now the Government thinks it’s okay to fully open our schools. Let me list the changes they have made:

1. Create pods. This is an excuse to lump six kids together and not social distance them. If we were told in the morning that we could go into the supermarket in groups with five random people we would question it and say it doesn’t make sense and yet we don’t question it for our children? The students in these pods will more than likely have siblings in other pods. When they go to play in the yard are they going to stay in their pods? If one of them contracts Covid-19 it will spread like wildfire.

2. Reorganise the furniture so that the pods and not the children are one metre away from each other. This will, by the way, facilitate packing 30 children into one room.

3. Employ 1,080 new secondary teachers. This is broken down to two teachers per school. When it comes to making class sizes smaller for an entire school it will make little or no difference. This is the only plan I have seen for secondary schools so far.

4. Hand washing.

In my opinion little or no effort has been made to keep our children and ultimately their grandparents safe.

I would have thought mass testing of all our little students would have been the first thing that was proposed. After all that’s the treatment our footballers got before they went back. But maybe our children and their grandparents are not that important.

Where are the plans for our special needs and vulnerable children?

One-metre social distancing is the minimum I would have expected – not just social distancing between groups of six.

The Government is in a mad rush to get our children back to school to facilitate their parents going back to work, I get that, but as usual no thought or effort has gone into this and I can only imagine at what cost.

Is this some kind of experiment? Am I alone in my thoughts or are others bewildered by the audacity of our leaders to cast our children into the unknown with little or no care? – Yours, etc,

LINDA RAESIDE,

Mullingar,

Co Westmeath.