Principals are concerned that Public Health teams will not be directly involved in the management of Covid cases in schools under the new antigen testing regime for the primary sector.
Under the plan, parents are being asked to tell schools if their child has tested positive for Covid and principals will then advise parents of other children in the classroom pod.
Parents of children who are “close contacts” may then order-free antigen tests for their child and are asked to conduct three tests over five days. The child may remain in school unless and until they develop symptom or test positive.
The antigen testing is not compulsory and, even if parents choose not to do it, their child can remain in school on the same basis as those who are being tested.
In a case where two or more cases arise in a class, within a seven day period, outside of a single pod, antigen testing can be offered to the full class.
But the Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN) said that the “overarching difficulty with the management of Covid cases in our schools is that the Public Health voice is still missing from the equation.”
The principals’ representative body said schools should have access to Public Health advice at the earliest possible juncture, when Covid cases are identified.
“This would inform the actions to be taken and better ensure the health and safety of our school communities” said IPPN CEO Páiric Clerkin.
While welcoming the antigen testing programme as a positive development, the IPPN said in the absence of public health input, if the measure is to work effectively, there was a burden of responsibility on parents.
“In effect, the successful implementation of this measure is dependent on the goodwill of parents to act responsibly”, the IPPN said.
IPPN was not consulted on the issue and is now seeking a briefing to provide further clarity on “the many questions school leaders have about how it will work in practice.”
Among the questions are how close contacts will be identified in classes where pods may not be in operation and what the implications are for school staff members who may be deemed to be close contacts of the positive case.
The IPPN said principals and deputy principals were “deeply concerned about the circumstances that are presenting currently in our schools and they are endeavouring to act in the best interests at all times of their school communities.”