EVERY school in the country was yesterday ordered to close for three days next week -- but Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe insists they will have to make up for lost time.
Schools will close on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday -- the first time a closure of this sort was ordered since the snow of 1982.
Most pupils will already have lost a full week's tuition by next Wednesday and the minister is likely to look for the days to be made up at the February mid-term break -- or by extending the school year which would be problematic at second-level because of the June State exams.
The minister is likely to face a hostile reaction from teachers, who have suffered a pay-cut this month. The minister made his decision on health and safety grounds two days after approximately 3,000 schools failed to re-open for the new term because of the severe conditions.
A spokesman said Mr O'Keeffe took account of the forecast ed snow for tomorrow and Monday and announced the move following yesterday's meeting of the Government's emergency planning group.
He will consult with teacher unions, managers and parents on "ways in which the impact of the closures could be minimised", particularly for leaving and junior certificate pupils.
Aine Lynch of the National Parents Council Primary said the lost time needed to be made up and she favoured spreading it, rather than, for instance, abolishing the mid-term break.
There was a broad welcome for the certainty that the minister's decision brings, although there was a mixed reaction from principals and parents.
Irish Primary Principals Network (IPPN) director Sean Cottrell said while the majority of principals welcomed the direction, others indicated that they wished to retain the power to make decisions for their own schools.
The minister had taken a hands-off approach earlier in the week leaving it to boards of management to decide whether it was safe to open. Most closed because of treacherous roads and footpaths, and frozen or leaking pipes. Mr O'Keeffe said he wanted "to bring clarity and certainty to the position".
"While it may be that some schools would have been in a position to open depending on the weather, I consider, on balance, that the responsible and prudent approach at this stage is to close schools in the interest of safety," he said, adding that the situation will be reviewed on Tuesday.
The minister said higher education institutions would make their own decisions on whether to open. Dublin Institute of Technology has postponed exams scheduled for Monday.
Mr O'Keeffe stressed that the outcome will not affect the local decision-making powers of school boards of management.
The Joint Managerial Body, which represents almost two-thirds of second-level schools welcomed "the decision to close schools on the grounds of the health and safety of students, teachers and parents," said general secretary Ferdia Kelly.
The employers' group IBEC said it was a positive move on health and safety grounds, although it could cause inconvenience for employers and business.
Irish National Teachers Organisation incoming general secretary Sheila Nunan described the decision taken as "sensible".