Schools to remain closed as arctic conditions wreak havoc
HUNDREDS of schools are expected to remain closed until next week as the cold weather continues to make road travel dangerous.
But many others are planning to leave it until the last minute to decide on whether to open their doors to pupils who are due to return from their Christmas holidays tomorrow.
The coldest winter in decades will force a significant number of schools to delay re-opening because of treacherous roads and school grounds, burst pipes and broken heating boilers.
Worst affected are hundreds of primary schools on hazardous, rural roads that have not been gritted.
It is up to individual school managements to decide whether to open, but in many cases that decision will not be taken until tomorrow morning.
The Department of Education has advised that schools "should make all reasonable efforts" to make up any days lost due to the bad weather.
A spokesman said schools should have scope to make up any such days either around the time of the mid-term break or at the end of the school year.
But the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) says schools had fixed their calendars and parents had been notified, and they would not be in a position to introduce changes.
The department said that in making decisions about school opening, boards of management should consider such issues as access and safety.
Often the decision to close is taken in conjunction with Bus Eireann, which operates the school transport service carrying 135,000 children --many in rural areas -- to school every day. "It isn't possible to say with certainty the evening before what conditions will be like the following day, so the decision to operate or not will be made each morning," a Bus Eireann spokesman said. He added that many of the secondary roads on which school buses travelled were not safe.
A local radio station in Co Donegal took the unusual step yesterday of calling on school principals in the area to close all schools at least until the end of the week. Managing director of Highland Radio Charlie Collins said he was pre-empting the inevitable chaos when scores of school principals would be attempting to contact the station to announce the schools were closed.
"I am anticipating an avalanche of phone calls and I'm not even certain, given the conditions, that I will have sufficient staff there to deal with the calls. I understand that it is a difficult call for principals to make, but the forecast is for sub-zero temperatures over the coming nights, so I am appealing to principals to make the decision in advance".
Fianna Fail Tipperary South TD Mattie McGrath says schools should stay closed tomorrow and Friday due to harsh road conditions.
St Vincent's School, Lisnagry, Co Limerick, which caters for students with special needs, will close for the remainder of the week. The school will reopen again next Monday.
The INTO predicted a significant number of schools would not open tomorrow. The union said it had received many calls from principals seeking advice on whether to open schools or not with others indicating that schools would be unable to re-open this week.