Making plans for a return to school

 

Sir, – I am due to return to school as a secondary teacher in two weeks. In my school, approximately 1,000 people are in attendance each day.

The management of the school has been poorly supported by the Department of Education in terms of building a back-to-school plan yet it had managed to put together an eminently sensible plan of blended learning which involved a rotation of students, with half of the students attending school in the morning while the other half were doing online classes, switching places in the afternoon. All students would be in attendance for half of the day.

This brought down the number of bodies in the school, minimised supervision requirements for non-class time, the management of which has yet to be tested and allowed both staff and students time to adjust to what will be the new normal. Moreover, it also established online learning in conjunction with class-based learning incase we found ourselves in a fully online situation later in the school year.

The plan further ensured that students would be likely to get to school as many travel on public transport which has been dramatically reduced in capacity.

This plan was then to be reviewed after two to three weeks with a gradual increase in presence in the school building up to a full return to school should the incidence of disease allow for this to happen.

As the number of students was to be limited, it was also easier to separate year groups to try to keep them to specific areas of the school to minimise any disruption that might inevitably come our way. This was a very well thought-out plan focusing on being able to sustainably keep the school open over the coming months, particularly given the difficulties of large classes and lack of ability to socially distance as well as one might like. However, the department has said no and that all students must be in attendance for a full school day.

How is this allowed to happen when indoor gatherings are limited to 50 people, the Dáil with 158 attendees is meeting in a convention centre and we have seen serious outbreaks of the disease in meat factories with 330 people working in them? A school like mine has nearly three times as many people in attendance as the factory. Leo Varadkar has acknowledged that we are guaranteed to have clusters in schools in the coming weeks, so surely we should do all we can to minimise these?

The Department of Education has been little help in the resolution of any educational issue in the last six months, causing maximum stress for all involved. It should surely embrace what are innovative solutions to a very challenging environment in an effort to provide the best level of safety to both staff and students, thereby ensuring continuity of education for the students. – Yours, etc,

NIAMH BYRNE,

Fairview,

Dublin 3.

Sir, – As Leo Varadkar has acknowledged, it is clear that the next year will be punctuated by clusters of the virus emerging in different schools. With the winter months approaching, the smooth running of primary and secondary education will be further hindered by the flu season.

Perhaps it is worth considering “borrowing” a few weeks from the next summer holidays in order to extend the Christmas break and take some of the pressure off the school system.

Of course, this would yield its own set of complications. Regardless, creative solutions will be required. – Yours, etc,

GABRIEL O’ROURKE,

Rathmines,

Dublin 6.