Keeping schools open akin to a tightrope act

November 8th, 2020 11:40 PM

By Southern Star Team

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WITH all the drama behind the scenes during the midterm break last week, it’s a wonder our schools managed to re-open at all this week. However, the government and the public health authorities are insistent that they stay open in order to keep this central form of normality going for families, something that seems strange in the context of the Level 5 restrictions currently imposed.

The fact that the schools are allowed to open is generally welcomed by children and their parents – especially where the latter are working from home – as it puts a proper structure on their days. However, while the first half-term went well in terms of the incidence of outbreaks in schools, for the teachers on the frontline, it’s still akin to walking a tightrope and they don’t feel adequately supported by the authorities, especially when they are put into a limbo-type situation by delays in testing and contact tracing, and by some ambiguity in the definition of what constitutes a close contact.

Members of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) have voted for industrial action, including strike if necessary, because of their frustration about having safety issues they are constantly raising with the Department of Education adequately addressed. This threat must surely act as a wake-up call for the government, which – at times – seems to hard-working teachers and other school staff to be taking their efforts for granted. While obviously not intentional, addressing their concerns must become paramount.

The withdrawal of a range of hand sanitisers and other sanitising products from schools has proven yet another headache. Who would be a school principal these days!

The schools were closed for the first 10 days of the Level 5 restrictions, so it will be interesting to see how the incidence of Covid-19 has developed since their return to the classrooms this past week. It will probably be the end of next week before we get that comparison, but if the re-opening of schools significantly reverses any gains made in suppressing the virus, the government may need to bite the bullet and rethink its strategy on keeping them open.

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