Christmas plays and parent-teacher meetings will be covered in new Covid-related guidance for schools being prepared by the Department of Education.
The advice will span a range of events and extra-curricular activities that are key fixtures in school calendars, but were either cancelled or run online last year.
The most pressing are parent-teacher meetings, which usually start running in November, and the Christmas play and other festive celebrations, which are high points for children and parents.
Seamus Mulconry, general secretary of the Catholic Primary School Management Association (CPMSA), said: “Schools want to do the right thing, and at the same time they are coming under pressure from parents.”
There was huge disappointment in December 2020 when parents could not attend the traditional seasonal celebration at their child’s school in person, because of the pandemic.
Schools were encouraged to stream events online.
Department officials told education partners at a meeting yesterday that they were working on updated guidance on events and extra-curricular activities and, following further consultations, it would issue after next week’s mid-term break.
The high level of vaccine uptake means that the public health landscape is quite different from this time last year, when venues such as theatres were closed because of the Covid lockdown. They are open again, albeit with restrictions.
However, the department’s guidance will have to take on board the continuing cautious approach to living with Covid announced by the Government this week, rather than the more comprehensive lifting of restrictions that was envisaged from today, prior to the recent surge in Covid infections.
Yesterday’s meeting took place against the backdrop of rising Covid cases in the community, and an increase in the number of outbreaks in schools to 15 last week, from three the week before.
Five of the outbreaks were in the HSE mid-west region, with three in the north-west while none was recorded for the south east, according to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC)
There were 80 confirmed cases linked to the outbreaks and, in one primary school, 19 confirmed cases.
An outbreak is where at least two cases of Covid are confirmed in a setting, although it does not mean that transmission occurred on site.
Six of the outbreaks were at primary level, seven were in special education, one at post-primary and one in a location that was not specified. There was also an outbreak associated with a third-level college, in the HSE south region.
While public health experts say transmission within schools remains low, the rise in infection, including among 5 to 12-year-olds, is causing difficulties for principals.
The Irish National Teachers Organisation is pressing for a reinstatement of supports such as routine public health risk assessments, testing and contact tracing of close contacts, which were withdrawn from primary schools a month ago.
The HSE is continuing to carry out mass testing in other schools and it did so in 133 post-primary schools last week and 17 special education settings, with a positivity rate of 5.2pc and 10.9pc, respectively.
Education partners are also pushing the department to come up with a solution to the lack of substitute teachers to cover for absences, which they say was exacerbated by the instruction not to redeploy a special education teacher to a mainstream class if the class teacher was absent.