The elephant in the (class)room
Sir, – Proposals for schools to return to operation in September with pupils attending in rotation are not workable, for a number of reasons.
From a teacher’s perspective, they would be occupied full time in managing classes with no capacity to give further attention to those students not in physical attendance.
From the pupil’s perspective, attending school only one or two days per week will mean that they only get 20 per cent or 40 per cent of the schooling they would get in a normal year, which is unacceptable.
From a parent’s perspective, trying to find childcare that would cater for them on a piecemeal basis will be very difficult.
For parents with more than one child the prospect of children of different ages being required to stay at home on different days adds further complexity.
From a hygiene perspective teachers would, over the course of a week be exposed to contagion from all pupils in all their classes, and all pupils would be exposed to any contagion sourced from each of their teachers.
In addition students normally move around in schools to use shared spaces in rotation (eg labs, sports facilities, assembly halls, AV rooms, etc) and some teachers (eg support and special needs teachers in primary, most teachers in secondary) move between classes and classrooms on a regular basis.
With younger pupils in particular, teachers often need to come into close proximity, eg to help them to hold a pencil correctly. The notion that junior and senior infants, or children with certain behavioural issues would be able to maintain social distance from each other over the course of a term is nonsense.
Given the fact that Covid-19 is known to be contagious without symptoms, and that it has been found to linger in enclosed spaces for extended periods, these factors mean that attempts to limit exposure by sub-dividing classes or imposing social distancing would be futile. It is clear that schools must either go back in full, or not at all.
As there is a high probability that there will be future outbreaks of Covid-19 that will force some schools and childcare facilities to close periodically anyway, the Department of Education should be focusing significant attention on how best to manage and deliver education for whole school populations remotely for extended periods. – Yours, etc,