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A principal’s dilemma: How to keep schools safe from Covid

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Schools are recording high levels of infection and absenteeism as a consequence

Schools are recording high levels of infection and absenteeism as a consequence

Schools are recording high levels of infection and absenteeism as a consequence

Sir — I am writing to you to give an open and honest account of what has transpired in my school in the last two weeks. I am the acting principal.

Tony Holohan says schools are safe. Norma Foley says schools are safe. I would like to present a different view:

As of 3pm Friday, I have had a 14.7pc positivity rate for Covid-19 in school over the last two weeks. As of 3pm Friday, I had 48.3pc children absent. As of 3pm Friday, I had no one from the HSE make contact with me.

I finally managed to track down a HSE doctor on Saturday afternoon (I tracked him down, not the other way round).

I was not looking for my school to be shut. I was not looking to send children home. I was not looking for the dreaded online learning to recommence.

I was looking for advice and support.

I am answerable to a board of management, a school community and my staff. Everyone needed reassurance that the right thing to do was plough on through this situation. The doctor I spoke to was very affable and told me my school had “not reached a threshold of cases for action to be taken”.

Perfect. I now have a “party line” to give to the school community. He did not tell me what that threshold is.

In order to speak to him I had first spoken to someone else who challenged me about my statistics. How did I know I had a 14pc positivity rate in the last fortnight? The parents of the children who tested positive rang me and told me — but of course it could be higher as not all parents may have contacted me and are not obliged to do so.

Could I prove Covid was spreading in my classes? Of course not and I didn’t try to say I could — but what I could say was that when one child in a pod tested, positive within a few days many more were also testing positive.

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And what about the huge rate of absenteeism? These fall into three categories:

1. The positive cases;

2. Siblings of positive cases;

3. Everyone else who is in a panic and doesn’t know what to do as there is no contract tracing in schools.

It would surely be better to have contact tracing than whole classes of panicked parents keeping their children out as they don’t know what to do. I am not allowed to say who has Covid, but if contact tracing was in place then small targeted groups could be tested and would hopefully feel safer returning to school.

This panic is understandable when pitted against the background of vaccinated workers being told to work from home, many of whom work in safe, socially distanced environments. But parents must send their unvaccinated child to classrooms of 32 children and can’t even be notified if there is a case of Covid in the class.

Dr Ciara Kelly wrote last weekend that children exhibit mild symptoms by and large and flu would be more severe. That’s exactly the feedback I’m getting from parents — but I am also being told many children live with grandparents who are vulnerable, children have parents undergoing cancer treatments, but currently these people cannot be made aware there is Covid in the school.

Taking all these factors into account and with the backing of my board of management, I have taken the step to notify parents if there is a Covid case in the class. Just one text when it hits a class.

I simply say: ‘We have been notified of a case of Covid-19 in your child’s class. Please be vigilant for symptoms in your child.’

Of course I shouldn’t be doing this, it’s against department advice — but look, what’s the worst thing that can happen?

They’ll fire me — and as Norma knows but doesn’t want to admit, a sub can’t be got for love nor money. And as for a principal, that’s a whole other letter...

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Currie had no room for hate in his love for his country

Sir — I was saddened to hear of the passing of Austin Currie, the civil rights activist who served as an MP for East Tyrone and then as TD for Dublin West.

Many of us would have always seen this man as the quintessential true Irish patriot.

Currie defined his understanding of being a nationalist in terms of the love he had for his country as opposed to being imbued with a hatred of others.

He was an exemplar of political honesty who hailed from a generation of true peacemakers, even when he had to withstand personal attacks and violence.

I always admired his great stoicism as he continued his political work in the face of many threats.

Seán Ó Briain, Co Tipperary

Austin deserved the praise from all sides

Sir — Austin Currie’s departure represents the end of a very distinguished and well-respected political career.

For a nationalist to be labelled as a “decent man” by DUP leader Jeffery Donaldson is high and rare praise indeed. But Currie was a very dynamic politician.

We’ll not see his like again.

Maurice Fitzgerald, Shanbally, Co Cork

Currie won our vote every single time

Sir — I remember an early back-of-a-lorry electioneering slogan for the Stormont: “Vote early. Vote often. Vote Austin!”

Rest in peace.

Oliver McGrane, Rathfarnham, Dublin

Tax homes for energy inefficiency instead

Sir — As we toiled last week to get new valuations in to the Revenue for the local property tax (LPT), I wondered if the Government has missed a glorious opportunity to link LPT liability to the Building Energy Rating (BER). It would be more relevant than the current metric, and also show a real intention to engage with sustainable progress.

The level of LPT paid would then rest with the homeowner to reduce their liability by improving their energy rating, rather than the current fiasco where one values a home against the crazy prices being paid for neighbouring properties.

An energy-based LPT would incentivise retrofitting jobs, increase revenue to government from the material costs, reduce our national pollution output, and work towards the sustainable targets we need to hit in the next short few years.

Not all homes currently have BER certification — but there are established methods of relating a rating to a property’s year of construction which could be the basis of the LPT, pending upgrade works or getting a BER assessment carried out to determine accurately the property’s rating.

Tony Bean, Dunboyne Road, Maynooth

COP26 ideal for Rab’s incoherent prattling

Sir — Does anyone know what Rab C Nesbitt made of Glasgow being taken over by the COP26 tree-hugging shindig?

I expected him to make some sort of appearance, even if he weren’t a main speaker.

Robert Sullivan, Bantry, Co Cork

It’s more of the same old blah, blah, blah

Sir — The COP26 climate summit in Glasgow should be a cause for hope, but I am not hopeful.

I am certainly not hopeful that much will change as a result of the gathering of politicians and lobby groups at the star-studded summit. Perhaps it is age or perhaps I have seen too many conferences — but I have become cynical, very cynical.

The Glasgow summit reminds me of nothing so much as the religious retreats we were sent on back in secondary school. For several days we vowed to give up our auld sins, go to mass every Sunday and generally dedicate our lives to God. Though there were always the few hard men who either didn’t go or rubbished the whole God thing. But within a week of the retreat ending, the vast majority of us had drifted back to our old wicked ways. I think it’s called human nature.

I have little doubt that something similar will happen following COP26.

The practicalities involved in keeping their promises will dawn on world leaders, the everyday demands of keeping voters happy will kick in — and we will go back to our old wicked ways.

And there are many countries who have no intention of making changes in the first place. Countries whose entire wealth is solely based on extracting fossil fuels.

It’s sad to say, but we all have a powerful addiction to our comfortable lifestyles.

But because it is also human nature to hope for the best, I will try to do my bit to live a more sustainable lifestyle, reduce my carbon footprint and try not to damage our shared environment.

But as I sit here writing, the messages coming from Glasgow are not encouraging.

David Orford, Portarlington, Co Laois

Old fossils came out top at the summit

Sir — I think there were more fossil fuel delegates at COP26 than any other group.

Breda Gahan, Cabra, Dublin

A draw is progress, whatever Liam says

Sir— After watching the World Cup qualifier between Ireland and Portugal at the Aviva Stadium, I have to say that I am now seeing a palpable marked improvement in the team.

I found Liam Brady’s critique of the Irish team and its management to be quite harsh. Some of his comments were a bit rich considering it was this same guy who in 2008 assisted Giovanni Trapattoni in serving up what everyone considered to be turgid and boring football.

Brady, in some of his utterances, came across as someone who was rather disgruntled, embittered.

It would be impractical to sack Stephen Kenny, considering he is working with limited resources and has got this team playing very well. A draw against a world-class outfit such as Portugal is some sort of progress. This is an Irish team that is playing attractive football — unlike the agricultural styles played in the recent past.

I am acutely aware it has taken this team a long time in transitioning over to this new style of play, but the team seems to have fully bought into the manager’s philosophy.

There’s no doubt that Kenny has got a finger on the pulse of Irish football and he now has to be seen as the steady hand at the Irish football managerial tiller.

It’s time for the FAI to take a leap of faith. Please give him a contract extension immediately.

John O Brien, Clonmel, Co Tipperary

You can bet your shirt on Ronaldo

Sir— In fairness to Cristiano Ronaldo, it seems he would give you the shirt off his back.

Tom Gilsenan, Beaumont, Dublin

Sluggish booster plan such a slap in the face

Sir — The booster roll-out is shocking in its pace and is an affront to the Irish people.

We deserve better and I cannot for the life of me understand how the booster program did not commence immediately after the second jabs were administered nationally. The infrastructure was there, the jabs were there, the staff to administer the jabs were all trained up and there. So why did the program just stop?

Why were the health authorities waiting for headlines in national papers by high-profile immunologists like Luke O’Neill to make decisions on anything? Why does Niac take so long to make a decision?

I’m supposed to be getting away to the US later this month. If it happens, my first activity there will involve getting a Pfizer jab — which you can get on any street corner, without having to wait for the nanny state to give the go-ahead.

I’m 56 years old. My second dose of AstraZeneca was in July. I will sleep better knowing I’ve had an MRNA booster four months after my second dose —rather than waiting until some time next year before my age group is finally seen to.

Holly Fogarty, Beechfield, Dublin 15

Collins’s insights now all of ours to treasure

Sir — Last week’s donation to the State of the pocket diaries of Michael Collins is a very generous gesture on the part of his descendants.

These diaries are a state treasure. This month 100 years ago Michael Collins and his team of negotiators sat across the table from the British team, to try to find a solution to a 700-year-old problem.

Collins felt out of his comfort zone at this level, not being an experienced politician. He was much more ‘at home’ at home, directing the brilliant effort to achieve freedom.

Michael Collins, fearless son,
you touched the nation’s soul,
ten thousand pounds
upon your head,
you still achieved your goal.
Twas not behind the barricades,
you fought that wanton fight,
you beat the enemy
at their game,
you undermined their might.

Tom Towey, Cloonacool, Co Sligo

State’s secrecy fails church victims again

Sir — I watched last week’s RTÉ documentary The Missing Children on the mother and baby homes scandal. What happened at Tuam was inhuman.

What one finds so alarming about Tuam and the yet-to-be discovered sites in the Republic of Ireland is the willingness of Irish politicians to withhold from the victims’ families the records held by Bon Secours and other public organisations.

Why in 2021 are we putting an embargo for 30 years on the disclosure of records held by the Irish State? The Irish Government is demanding disclosures from neighbouring governments on past events on the island of Ireland.

Yet the same Government is preventing the victims and their families from being told the truth in releasing all records held by organisations implicated in the mother and baby homes scandal.

Will the Catholic Church always be prioritised ahead of families who are seeking answers? The question has to be asked: Who are we trying to protect?

George Millar, Newtownards, Co Down

Skehan piece should be required reading

Sir — Congratulations are due to Conor Skehan for his excellent and wide-ranging article last week on Ireland’s future.

In addition, despite our national problems, he reminds us about the “universal blessings” that are enjoyed in world terms by 90pc of the highest population ever.

However, he felt it necessary to warn us in this country about the threats to our future from the consequences of our “naivety, nativism and nationalism” and the present-day triumph of emotion over the facts.

He also calls attention to the need for “political innovation to reverse or reduce these self-destructive tendencies”.

His article should be required reading for all Irish political decision-makers.

Anthony Leavy, Sutton, Dublin 13

Archibald out of her depth on hard data

Sir — Chris Donnelly, in last week’s Sunday Independent, wrote how Sinn Féin’s Caoimhe Archibald ridiculed an assertion by the sometime Ulster Unionist MLA Esmond Birnie that the Northern Ireland Protocol is costing local businesses £850m a year.

Mr Donnelly did not mention that Mr Birnie read economics at Cambridge and has taught the subject at both of Northern Ireland’s universities. He is also a former chief economist for PwC in Northern Ireland and Scotland. By contrast, Caoimhe Archibald has a PhD in molecular mycology.

CDC Armstrong, Donegall Rd, Belfast, Antrim

Ryan struggles to strike right chord

Sir — I used be fascinated by seeing flautist James Galway play. I always wondered about the score his dancing eyes were reading.

These days I see minister Eamon Ryan’s flickering eyes doing the same thing, and I find myself asking: To whose tune is he dancing?

Liam Power, Dundalk, Co Louth


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