How about we take a radical new approach to the problem of reopening schools where we put children first? Because schools are certainly not remaining shut for their sake.
We know children are suffering. Education Minister Norma Foley and Micheál Martin know this too. They have read the research and they want schools open ASAP – so where is the plan?
A very sobering report this month from the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland says it wants the reopening of schools to be prioritised to protect the social, emotional, physical, developmental and mental needs of children.
So why is nobody listening?
The phased reopening of special schools starts today, while the solution for children in special classes in mainstream education is at best a sticking plaster.
One parent tells me she needs to find a teacher willing to come to her house for an hour each day to teach her child with Down syndrome – but she can’t find one.
Parents are at breaking point – and have no clear finish line in sight.
The parents at my school tell me they can no longer cope, yet our school floats around in a Dublin 6 bubble.
There is very little disadvantage, there is no long-term employment, there is enough to eat, and yet these parents have nothing left to give and are worried about their children’s mental health.
I know my eldest son would get more exercise if he was in jail – I just can’t get him out to the park with us anymore. It is not natural for kids to be living as they are now.
Employers can preach ‘flex’ all the way, but nobody can ‘flex’ far enough to maintain a job, a household and home school schedules without breaking.
Stay-at-home parents also report incredible pressure as it is all on them, while parents with jobs on the frontline reply to messages in the early hours with the crying emoji.
If this is the bellwether for how comfortable homes are doing, then I can only imagine the circumstances elsewhere.
I interviewed a principal of a high-support school in Dublin 11 a few weeks ago and I was shaking with anger afterwards.
His school (there are five in the country) caters for children that tend to have been expelled from mainstream schools.
These children are at the most risk of dropping out and entering a life of crime.
His teachers were willing to work out a way to go back after Christmas and yet they will only begin a phased return today.
These kids are some of our most vulnerable and their interests have not been looked after.
At my schoolthis week, the parents snapped – we agreed we’d had enough of the uncertainty.
One of the parents sent a pleading email to her TD and was shocked to receive a reply telling her he was really trying, but if parents do not get vocally involved and lobby for school opening “there is no pressure on the Government to do so”.
He then dropped an explosive comment that caused a nuclear bomb of outrage: “To be honest I am astonished parents are so quiet on this.”
The obvious reason parents are not mobilising is that we are too bloody wrecked. Nobody has the extra headspace or the energy to compile an argument or form a lobby.
Our silence has been mistaken for patience, acceptance even. But not anymore. The mood has changed and the parents I know want answers.
Vague noises and snippets in media reports about a phased return before the end of March don’t cut it. Why is everything so complicated? Actually, spare us the answer.
There has been so much political posturing around the schools, so much bluster and one-upmanship.
This is not a political game. This is our children’s lives. The key decision-makers need to get their act together.
One way to create order out of the chaos would be for all the stakeholders to agree a red line for reopening on March 1.
This is not risky. Research shows us schools are relatively low risk for transmission. Teachers can protect themselves with masks, social distancing and hygiene measures.
In my son’s creche, the employees have a Covid test on a Sunday afternoon. Can’t all teachers do this?
How safe do teachers need it to be to return? We can extrapolate from data today to estimate the situation on March 1.
We are now down to a five-day case average of 848. This is better than many countries in the EU that have schools fully open. Schools in Ireland are as safe as they were in December when we had the lowest rates in the EU. The unions are being overly cautious.
There is increasing evidence that suggests most teachers returning to school would not be at grave risk. Can we isolate those that are and give schools autonomy to work it out? Nothing is going to be perfect and the unions have to accept this.
Nphet and Dr Tony Holohan need a prod off the fence. They say schools are safe and now need to step up and make a move.
Teachers are working so hard to do their job remotely. The majority can go back and should be allowed to.
Dr Niamh Lynch, a paediatric consultant at the Bon Secours Hospital in Cork, says, “Children are losing both physical fitness and social skills. All the primary school children I see tell me they miss school, and seeing their friends.
"Secondary schools have put in a lot of work with online schooling, but I am seeing increased headaches, back pain and neck pain in teenagers who are sitting looking at a screen all day.”
Perhaps that TD is right and parents need to start getting more vocal.