'Schools are low-risk environments' says Department of Education as INTO raises concerns 1 month ago

'Schools are low-risk environments' says Department of Education as INTO raises concerns

The Irish National Teachers' Organisation is set to meet the Department of Education tomorrow to discuss concerns around current high levels of Covid-19 in primary schools.

This comes after a Wexford primary school closed the school this week after over 30 cases of the virus was confirmed among their students and staff.

However, the Department of Education instructed the CBS Primary School in Wexford town to re-open again, stating that there was no need to close the school.

Speaking to RTE News, school principal Vicky Barron said yesterday that the school had decided to close "in the absence of public health advice".

"We acted with the health and safety of our children at the centre of our thoughts and I stand over that decision".

Barron reiterated concerns she has that the current way of managing Covid in schools is flawed.

"My concern is that nothing will change. A child could be asymptomatic and unwittingly spreading Covid in the classroom – because it is airborne - and nobody will know until that child transmits it in their own household."

Schools feel 'stripped of public health supports'

Speaking ahead of tomorrow's meeting with the Department of Education, INTO General Secretary John Boyle said: "Schools are doing their best to keep their communities safe, despite being stripped of public health supports which were instrumental in keeping our schools open safely for most of the last school year.

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The union will discuss what it said is "the very high level of infection among 5-12-year-olds and plans for safeguarding schools from Halloween to Christmas".

President of the IPPN said "if schools continue to have engagement with public health teams at the earliest possible juncture when Covid cases are identified within the school, then it's less likely that a school or board will find themselves in such difficult circumstances in having to make such a decision".

Speaking on RTE's News at One, Brian O'Doherty said the decision to close a school is a matter for the management bodies in consultation with the Department of Education.

He said the challenge in recent weeks has been the disparity between controlled measures and safety protocols in schools and what was happening in the wider society and that naturally there was going to be slippage.

He said parents have been really responsible in working with schools to make sure there is not a high rate of infection introduced into the schools.

The Department of Education has reiterated its view that schools are low-risk environments.

In a statement, it said that "the evidence available from the operation of schools during Covid-19 to date shows that schools are low-risk environments due to the infection prevention and control measures in place".

It said it continued to be guided by public health advice, and to engage on a regular basis with all education partners as well as public health officials to ensure that schools can continue to operate safely.