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Children will only be in school one day per week if 2m social distancing rule is maintained – Education Minister


Education Minister Joe McHugh 
Photo: PA

Education Minister Joe McHugh Photo: PA

Books against chalkboard. Stock picture

Books against chalkboard. Stock picture


Education Minister Joe McHugh Photo: PA

Education Minister Joe McHugh is preparing for all pupils to return to school in September regardless of what social distancing rules that may apply elsewhere in society.

The minister said sending children back part-time for two or three days a week “is not a runner”.

“If we just bring back 20pc or 50pc of students, we will do more damage because of educational neglect and potential regression.”

He said he wanted a “common sense approach” to the reopening of schools with children and staff “far enough away from each other, so that they are not breathing on, or touching each other”.

It would have to be accompanied with good hygiene practices and regular cleaning of commonly touched surfaces, he said.

But if social distancing rules of two or one metre apply, he made it clear that schools would not have to observe it strictly.

Mr McHugh outlined his vision as he revealed details of what social distancing would mean in schools.

Mr McHugh said that primary pupils would only be able to attend school for one day a week if the two metre social distancing rule is in place at the end of August.

“Given the negative impact such restrictions would have on teaching and learning I strongly believe the only option is the full return to education, taking all necessary public health precautions,” the minister said.

At post-primary, the two metre protocol it would mean a two day week for most pupils.

The scenario is laid out in the roadmap for re-opening schools approved by the Government today.

It provides preliminary guidelines for schools to allow them start preparing for a return to the classroom in an era of social distancing.

In the social distancing requirement was relaxed to one metre, the situation would be slightly better allowing primary pupils to attend for two and a half days week.

At post primary level, one metre would mean some year groups attending school two and a half days a week, and other classes attending at or near a full time basis.

It would have serious impact on the delivery of meaningful education, with student at home for half a week or more and expected to continue to engage in learning from home.

As he unveiled the roadmap, Mr McHugh said the clear intention and the goal of the Government and the entire Education Sector was to have a full reopening of all schools for all children at the end of August and into September.

He said full reopening of schools and the return of all students to their normal education routine is in the best interests of everyone.

He said there are "difficulties" relating to social distancing rules but suggested "bespoke solutions" can be found for schools like the procedures being brought in for creches.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said the government want all children to be able to go back to school full time at the end of August.

He said there are "difficulties" relating to social distancing rules but suggested "bespoke solutions" can be found for schools like the procedures being brought in for creches.

Mr Varadkar said there's "concern" among parents at the consequences of applying the two-metre social distancing rules for schools.

He said he wants to reassure them that "what we're working on is being in position so all kids can go back full time in August".

Mr Varadkar said there are difficulties over the two metres rule and there would be even if that's reduced to one metre.

He said the government is seeking solutions that will allow all children to return to schools as originally intended.

He added: "a lot depends on virus the continuing to decline in the community."

Labour Education Spokesperson Aodhán Ó Ríordáin called today's announcement "virtually useless" as he said more clarity is needed for parents and educators.

"The announcement today on school reopening is incoherent and simply causes more confusion. The lack of clarity around the one metre/two metre rule renders the Ministers announcement today virtually useless and just causes more confusion.

"How is a principal or school administrator supposed to plan for reopening in little over two months when the Minister is saying two different things at the same time?

"Once again what has been said today will cause chaos for parents who have no idea if they’ll be able to go back to work full time or if they will need to be at home several days a week with their children for blended learning," he said.

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