Support to schools to be ramped up to help them reach Covid-19 reopening date under Level 5 - pledges Education Minister

Leinster Express Reporter

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Leinster Express Reporter

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Holy Family Senior School in Portlaoise will have been closed for over a month on January 11 due to an outbreak which forced closure in early December

Schools are to get extra supports to ensure they reopen on January 11 after the delayed reopening caused by the third wave of Covid-19, the Minister for Education Norma Foley has pledged.

The Government's Level 5 plan includes the continued operation of schools but the school's Christmas break will be extended by three days. Minister Foley explained why.

“It is a key objective of Government that our children and school staff can attend school safely. This has been achieved through the valiant efforts of all members of the school community, and the additional supports put in place. The Government has considered carefully the public health data analysis regarding schools, which is hugely reassuring and shows that schools continue to be safe places.

“The Christmas school break will be extended for three additional days to 11 January. This will allow every member of the school community to follow public health advice closely and minimise their contacts before children return to school.

“Children, young people and their parents and school communities have been extremely responsible to date in ensuring that they follow the public health guidelines. It is really important that everyone continues to do this, so that we can all support the safe operation of our schools.

“Significant investment in infection prevention and control measures has already been put in place to support schools operating safely. My Department is also providing further funding directly to schools for PPE, cleaning and other essential supplies to support safe re-opening after Christmas,” she said.

A statement added that the Department of Education is also working with public health to build further capacity in the HSE school support teams. It said additional resources from the Department’s Inspectorate will be added to these teams in the coming days, which play a vital role in supporting the safe operation of schools, by providing a timely response to schools where a positive case of Covid-19 is detected.

Minister Foley committed to helping.

“I am now putting in place further additional resources in the HSE school teams. I have arranged a significant increase in the Department of Education officials that will be working with the HSE school support teams, particularly in the fortnight around the re-opening of schools and in subsequent weeks. Officials from the Department’s Inspectorate have been liaising with the HSE today to ensure strengthening of the capacity of the HSE School and Early Years’ support teams from next Monday onwards.

“Returning to school for the term is an important undertaking, and we want it to go as smoothly as possible for everyone. I thank everyone for their efforts to date. But this virus is still very much with us and we cannot be complacent. Our shared goal is that we can keep our schools operating safely.

“To achieve this, it is essential that everyone continues to follow the public health advice, that over the next ten days families limit their contacts before the return to school. We must all continue to work together to ensure that our second school term is a productive, happy and safe time of learning for everyone.”

 Minister of State for Special Education Madigan said she is working with Minister Foley, Department officials, school and staff representatives in the area of special education and the wider education system along with public health experts to ensure schools open.

"We must take this extended opportunity to recommit ourselves to abiding by the public health guidance: washing our hands, maintaining social distancing, limiting our contacts, and following HSE advice. It is more important now than ever.

“I am hugely grateful for the work of school staff, students, and families across the country in ensuring that schools could reopen safely and remain open in 2020. Their dedication has never been in doubt. We are putting in place further measures and guidance so that this can be maintained in 2021. All of the measures are being put in place support schools and I urge everyone to really prioritise the safe and sustained opening of our schools, for all children, and in doing so actively decide to reduce and limit their contacts over the coming period.

“The provision of education for our young people is vital, and all the partners in education are committed to maintaining this. We must continue to take precautions and limit our interactions so that this can happen, for all our students, including those who are facing disadvantage and those with special educational needs,” she said.