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Social distancing rule may not apply to young pupils and children with special needs on return to school

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Education Minister Joe McHugh.

Education Minister Joe McHugh.

Education Minister Joe McHugh.

There may be no social distancing rule for young pupils and some children with special educational needs when they return to school in September, according to Education Minister Joe McHugh.

He told the Dáil today that there would be no physical distancing for children with special educational needs returning for summer education programmes .

He said that it would be neither “practical nor possible.”

And looking ahead to September, Mr McHugh said physical distancing may not be practical for young children and some with special needs.

“In these situations, we need to ensure there are appropriate measures in place to protect children and school staff,” he said.

The minister said physical distancing requirements were a function of public health advice intended to reduce the risk of infection at particular times and current guidelines were being kept under review.

He noted that elements of the Roadmap to re-opening society reviewed had been accelerated as public health advice had evolved.

“Consideration to other mitigating factors in a school setting and emerging evidence on low infection transmission by children may also mitigate some of the risks considered as part of broader public health advice. We also have to be cognisant that maintaining physical distancing in all situations is not possible or appropriate,” he said.

In relation to the summer education programme, so far, 200 schools have signed up for it, but the Department of Education hopes more will volunteer.

Mr McHugh had hoped the number of children to benefit would double to 20,000 this year, to help compensate for the missed months at school, but so far, the figure is 9,200.

DEIS schools have also been asked to run summer programme for the most disadvantaged pupils and Mr McHugh said today that because of the numbers expected to involved, physical distancing should be maintained for these, but that should not have any impact on the running of the programme. To date, 224 schools have offered.

While schools received guidelines today on a number of matters related to re-opening for the summer programme, further guidance will issue tomorrow taking account public health advice on issues such as distancing.

On the general point of school re-opening, the minister told the Dáil that the most critical part of managing the risks of Covid-19 related to schools was “ doing everything practical to avoid it entering the school setting.

“ If the infection is not introduced it cannot spread. The risk of introduction is related to how common the infection is in the community served by the school at a given time. If the infection is uncommon in the community then the likelihood of introduction is much lower.

“The other key issue to manage is directed towards having measures in place to do whatever is practical to reduce the likelihood of spread within the school in the event that Covid 19 is introduced to the school."

Online Editors