Minister for Education Norma Foley TD today provided a further update regarding the plans to fully reopen schools.
With some schools beginning to reopen next week, the Minister acknowledged the enormous work being undertaken in school communities and the commitment of everyone involved in providing a safe environment for the return of children to our schools.
The Minister also confirmed that she had been working with the public health authorities to ensure that the public health advice underpinning the safe reopening of schools is fully up to date. The HSE’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre has confirmed that all recommendations published in the public health advice by the Minister at the beginning of July including physical distancing guidelines as set out in the recently published roadmap still apply in all schools, with the exception of the recommendations on face coverings which has been updated to reflect the latest research and expertise. It is now recommended that teachers and secondary school students wear face coverings, similar to those worn in shops or on public transport, when a physical distance of 2 metres cannot be maintained.
Minister Foley said:
“I am heartened by the response of the education sector to the challenge that the COVID-19 pandemic has presented. Principals, school management and staff right around the country have been committed to this reopening process from the start and we will now see some of our schools begin to return next week.
“For parents, I understand that you may feel anxious about your child’s return to school. We are living in a new normal. However, we have put in place all the precautions necessary and along with the dedication of the principals and teachers at a local school level, you can be assured that your child will return to a safe and welcoming classroom.”
The Minister also highlighted the work of the schools reopening helpline within the department which is dealing with queries from schools that arise during the reopening process. This dedicated helpline will remain in place for the next period as schools begin to open and will be on hand to provide assistance with any questions from school principals.
Public Health Advice
The Minister also confirmed that she had been working with the public health authorities to ensure that the public health advice underpinning the safe reopening of schools is fully up to date. Public Health Authorities have confirmed that the recommendations initially issued in July remain current, with the exception of changes to guidance on the wearing of face coverings in a school context. These recommendations from the HSE’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre confirm that:
- All recommendations published in the public health advice by the Minister at the beginning of July including physical distancing guidelines as set out in the recently published roadmap still apply in all schools, with the exception of the recommendations on face coverings which has been updated to reflect the latest research and expertise.
- Face coverings are recommended that are reusable and washed once every day as is consistent with the recommendation to wear face coverings in other contexts such as on public transport, in shops and indoors where a 2m physical distance cannot be maintained.
- Students at post primary level, apart from specific exemptions will be required to wear face coverings in the classroom.
- All staff and students using the post-primary school transport service will be required to wear face coverings on the bus.
- Staff, including teachers at both primary and post primary levels, who cannot maintain a 2m distance from students or other staff will be required to wear face coverings.
- All SNAs will be required to wear face coverings, or in certain situations clear visors, in the classroom.
- Other staff, e.g. bus escorts, who have close contact with students will be required to wear face coverings.
- The Department has met with stakeholders today to reassure school staff, students, parents and management bodies that it is a key priority to support the school community in implementing all of the recommendations from the HSE. Schools will be provided with additional funding of more than €30 million for the period from re-opening to the end of the 2020 to cover costs related to hand hygiene measures and PPE needs through COVID-19 capitation grant. This capitation grant rate up to the end of 2020, reflects the fact that there are a number of once off type costs which schools face in implementing COVID-19 Response Plans (i.e. installation of sanitiser units, signage/posters etc.) which will be incurred upfront.