Snow: Confusion over lack of official advice to Laois schools over icy roads

Lynda Kiernan

Reporter:

Lynda Kiernan

Email:

lynda.kiernan@leinsterexpress.ie

Snow: Confusion over lack of official advice to Laois schools over icy roads

Schools in Laois were left to make their own decisions whether to open today, Monday December 11, with Status Orange weather causing many schoolbusses to cancel services.

Some schools were expecting to get advice from the Department of Education, including Laois Offaly ETB.

Its chief executive Joe Cunningham said on Sunday that they would be "guided by instruction from the Department". 

"We are monitoring the situation, mindful of the weather forecasts for both Laois and Offaly, and will also be guided by instruction from the Department of Education and Skills. The safety of our staff and students will be the primary concern in whatever decision is made locally," Mr Cunningham said.

The ETB opted to open their Laois schools, which are Clonaslee College, Dunamase College, St Fergal's College Rathdowney, Portlaoise College and Further Education Centres in Abbeyleix, Mountmellick, Portarlington and Portlaoise. 

Clonaslee College however decided to stay closed.

Mountrath Community School is open despite two bus companies not running to it. The principal Ms McCarthy has stated that "only the DoE&S has authority to declare school closed in such circumstances", advising parents to "err on the side of caution" regarding travelling to school or not.

The South School NS in Abbeyleix was also awaiting clarification from the Department on Sunday morning, in a notice to parents when it also postponed its nativity play.

"Awaiting clarification from Department of Education regarding school tomorrow. Schools text will issue later. Thank you". 

By Sunday evening the school had decided to open. 

"A spokesperson for the Department of Education and Skills has said schools nationwide will remain open tomorrow. In the event of a status red warning, decisions will be made locally by individual schools". 

At least three private school bus companies cancelled their runs today, including Dempsey's Coach Hire, Joe Moore Coach Hire and Slieve Bloom Coaches, between them serving many hundreds of pupils across Laois schools.

Among the schools served was Holy Family Junior School in Portlaoise, which is open for its 700 pupils.

Principal Enda Hickey said no notification was received nor expected from the Department of Education.

"The Department allows Boards of Management to make that call, except in cases of a Status Red alert like Ophelia," he said.

The school had all other bus companies running to it.

"We have all our staff here today and a good majority of pupils. Not all got here at the normal time with the road conditions, they were sensible and took their time. We were here early in both the Holy Family Junior and Senior Schools to salt as much as we could to make it as safe as possible. Thankfully there were no incidents this morning, and I hope everyone gets home safely as well," he said.

More on closed Laois schools here. 

Laois County Council told the Leinster Express that "Schools and their Boards of Management make decisions based upon local circumstances".

Laois Offaly Gardaí said that the Department of Education does not consult them on closing schools.

The Gardaí issued national public safety messages to the public against making unnecessary journeys, with Status Orange warnings for snow and later ice across the midlands. A spokesperson confirmed that no Department of Education statement followed related to that.

A thaw is underway in Laois but some shaded roads remain icy, with temperatures to drop below zero again this evening. Read forecast here.