A NATIONAL school is using a garden shed as a Covid-19 isolation room - with the principal stating Government guidelines had been too “rushed”.
Principal Joan Donnelly, of Clonbonny National School in Co Westmeath, said they had been left with no other option but to buy a garden shed for an isolation room, as the Department of Education guidance meant “everything was rushed.”
“We had had to reconfigure our school to allow us to open our gates this morning,” Ms Donnelly told Independent.ie.
“But we have a lack of space in the school. When I asked the Department of Education about a prefab, their solution was to knock in internal walls or use extra space.
“I looked at the opportunity of internal walls and contacted an engineer but was told the time was too tight and doing that work would make a class unavailable.
“It wouldn't have been ready in time for the opening today. Everything has been rushed, we had a huge amount of work to do since the start of August.
“This is a very short term measure and I hope we get a prefab soon but we were told on the Department’s helpline we couldn't have one without planning permission, or a fire certificate.
“The shed isn’t ideal at all but we need an isolation room if a child has symptoms and it’s better than a staff toilet.”
It’s understood Clonbonny isn’t the only school to have to think outside the box by purchasing a garden shed as an isolation room.
And Ms Donnelly said this was definitely the case as the Government guidance for schools had been issued “too late.”
She said that the Government had known the situation for schools having to isolate those with symptoms and also create more space for social distancing since March, yet the guidance was issued in August.
“The Department of Education knew this when we closed last March,” she added.
“We were left very much to our own devices, to implement the guidelines.
“Clonboynny is not the only school whose school has had to buy a shed but it’s not my place to speak about those schools.”
Ms Donnelly wouldn’t reveal the price of the shed which fits two wooden chairs in.
The shed is a very small wooden construct outside the school building.
And though it is far from the preferred option, the principal said the parents were just delighted the school was open again for 127 children.
“Everyone is so happy to be back and we’ve done our best, everyone knows that,” she said.
“I visited all the classrooms and for the most part we seem to have a 95pc return this morning.”
Clonbonny also stated they had informed the Department they'd be unable to social distance to 1m without a new mobile building.
Photos on social media show students in one class appear very close together.
A Department of Education spokesperson said: "If a child develops symptoms suggestive of COVID-19 while in school, they should tell their teacher or designated staff member straight away. They will be taken to a designated isolation area within the school building.
"Ideally, the isolation area should be a separate room (resource permitting), but it may be an area within a classroom where a distance of at least 2 metres from all other people in the room can be strictly maintained.
"The Department brought forward to August the payment of the annual minor works grant to primary schools, totalling approximately €30 million, which typically is paid in either December/January each year. In addition, an enhanced minor work grant, which matches the 2019 payment, has also been issued directly to schools. This amounts to €60 million which has now been issued directly to primary schools in minor works grants since the publication of the Roadmap. A minor works grant amounting to €42m issued to post-primary schools in the free scheme.
"The minor works grant provides schools with the necessary flexibility to implement necessary physical measures in their school quickly to enable the full return to school."