Schools and the pandemic


Sir, – Teachers are fearful. The webinar to reassure them, and special needs assistants, had over 15,000 looking for answers. What they heard was that the data being used by the Government did not include the new variant of Covid-19, now present in almost 50 per cent of cases.

What they have heard before that is HSE chief executive Paul Reid’s words of “rampant’” community transmission and an “unbearable strain” on the health service. And Nphet’s advice to stay at home unless “absolutely necessary”.

What they felt was posturing; a Government, low in poll numbers and, understandably but desperately, trying to secure this one win to keep schools open. What they have sensed, in the reporting, is that bad faith. A drum that the private sector, and this includes newspapers and media, continues to bang, unaware of how it shapes the debate.

Before Christmas the rate of transmission in special schools was 10 per cent, similar to the community rate of transmission, and much higher than that of mainstream schools. So the question is, would reopening special schools see the same surge in them that we have seen in the community?

And the answers they have received, and the “let’s just see” approach, have not convinced.

Is there a short-term solution, allowing students with special needs to receive support, without reopening schools? The answer is yes. – Yours, etc,



Co Cork.

Sir, – If it is really a priority to get students back in special schools – and I believe that it should be – surely those students and school staff should be prioritised for vaccination.

If the Government projections for weekly numbers to be vaccinated are to be believed, this could be done quickly. Likewise, vaccinating Leaving Cert students and their teachers should be possible. I’m sure this would give teachers and pupils the confidence to return.

Saying schools are safe, in the absence of vaccination, when community rates are so high, is just not credible, no matter how often it is repeated.

As someone in the over-70 category, I would be prepared to be a few weeks longer on the vaccine waiting list if this allowed special education and Leaving Cert students to return to school while keeping them, their teachers and other school staff safe.

I believe that many in my age cohort feel the same way. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 3.

Sir, – Our Government has now abandoned plans to reopen special schools and special classes for pupils with additional needs this week.

Principals, teachers and special needs assistants understandably want to be safeguarded and reassured.

While educators could be prioritised in terms of availability of personal protective equipment, fast-tracking for Covid testing and priority for vaccination, the reality is, even with these measures, no one who steps outside their front door can be guaranteed absolute safety in the midst of a pandemic. The unions must surely understand this.

Our Minister for Education has raised hopes for parents of children with special needs once again, only for hopes to crash at the 11th hour. One cannot help but wonder about the communication between Government departments and educators on the ground. It appears to be the era of the U-turn.

I understand meetings between key stakeholders are set to continue.

More discussions, costly discussions, while children with additional needs remain at home, losing skills, at increasingly risk of psychological difficulties as families struggle to cope. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 4.

A chara, – The reason children with additional needs are not going back to school this week, or any school child for that matter, is solely because our Government ignored Nphet advice and relaxed restrictions during December. This is where the blame needs to lie.

The repercussions for our Government trying to be popular by offering us a “meaningful” Christmas, rather than leading responsibly, are profound. Because of this decision, no children are back at school, we are all enduring yet another claustrophobic Level 5 lockdown, there have been thousands of hospitalisations, hundreds of people becoming extremely ill, and too many deaths, with families suffering the loss of loved ones that could and should have been avoided. – Is mise,



Dublin 6.

Sir, – As a parent of a child at a special-needs school, I wanted to correct the perception which is being promulgated in the media, and elsewhere, that there is some sort of a battle which is drawn up along the lines of parents wanting the children to be in school, and the teachers and special needs assistants not “co-operating”. There are many parents like us who absolutely support the teachers and SNAs in saying that schools should absolutely not go back while the case numbers are so high. It is not just a matter of individual families making their own risk assessments, it is a matter of what is best for the whole community. Right now, everywhere across Ireland, what is best, sadly, is that everyone stays at home for a while longer if they possibly can. No-one wants the children, whether special needs or mainstream, to be out of school for a moment longer than they have to be. But even if our school had gone back, we would not have sent our son in right now. The emphasis in the next few weeks at least should be on supporting schools to provide the best possible remote-learning resources, whether these are online classes, learning materials, or moral and practical support. – Yours, etc,