THE bad weather will force most of the country's schools to remain closed until after the weekend.
Widespread closures were announced yesterday as snow and ice took its toll on roads, on school yards and on heating and plumbing systems.
With no let-up in sight, and as wintry showers spread around the country yesterday, one school manager after another took the decision to close on health and safety grounds.
Earlier in the week, rural schools on poor roads were regarded as most at risk of postponing their re-opening for the new term today, with western counties worst affected.
But after heavy snowfalls in many parts of the country yesterday, more closures were announced, including some big schools in Dublin .
Some schools put off a decision until the last minute and were awaiting overnight developments to decide whether they should open today.
However, hundreds of schools alerted local radio stations and sent text or other messages to parents yesterday advising them of closures.
It is up to school managers to decide on opening/closing and Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe said this week that they should take account of health and safety issues.
But under the Standardised School Year agreement, schools are required to "make all reasonable efforts" to make up the days lost.
A spokesman for Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe suggested that they would have scope to work extra days around the time of the mid-term break or at the end of the school year.
But Eileen Flynn of the Catholic Primary School Managers Association said she believed that "common sense would prevail".
She said schools could make an application to the Department of Education for an exemption from the requirement, at primary level, to work 183 days. She said some schools had already sought this because of the flooding late last year.
However, Labour education spokesman Ruairi Quinn said that "bad weather should not cost any child their education".
He added: "If schools have no other choice but to close, boards of management should make arrangements with staff and parents for lost days to be made up later on in the year."
The Irish Primary Principals Network said where there was reasonable risk to the safety of children and staff to whom the board of management had a duty of care, common sense should apply in deciding whether the school should be open or closed.
The Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) predicted most of the country's 3,200 primary schools would be closed until after the weekend.
The INTO also said many schools had been badly affected by burst pipes.
"In many schools, heating systems have been affected. In such cases these schools have no option but to close", a spokesman said.