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Clarity for schools is needed urgently: Whitmore

Families prepare for return to school despite uncertainty

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Wicklow TD Jennifer Whitmore

Wicklow TD Jennifer Whitmore

Wicklow TD Jennifer Whitmore

Wicklow Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore has called for urgent clarity on the reopening of schools in September.

Deputy Whitmore raised the issue with Taoiseach Michéal Martin in the Dail on Wednesday.

Speaking in the Dáil, Deputy Whitmore said: 'We are five weeks away from schools opening and one week away from taking our recess, yet there is still no certainty about how the schools are going to open. Children do not know whether they will be in with their school friends for an entire week or part of a week; parents do not know whether they will have to source childcare for part of the week; and schools, principals and teachers do not know what level of support and funding they will get. When will the Government publish a clear plan for schools to reopen at the end of August, including a funding structure for them?'

In response, Taoiseach Martin said the reopening of schools was an 'absolute priority' of the Government.

'A lot of work has been under way working with all of the stakeholders, which is important. I would prefer one comprehensive announcement on this as opposed to piecemeal announcements, responses and so on. This needs to be a comprehensive response. A lot of work is under way by the Department itself, the stakeholders in education and the Minister, and the Minister is very keen, obviously, to make a public comprehensive statement on this when everything has been put together, including funding and the arrangements that will apply,' he added.

In a statement, Deputy Whitmore said, 'the constant meandering around the issue' by the Government has led to huge uncertainty and stress among school communities across Wicklow.

'Children don't know if they are going to be in for a full week, parents don't know if they are going to need to seek childcare for all or part of the week and school staff don't know what levels of support and funding they are going to get from the Government.

'Parents and children need to know as soon as possible to put in place plans to manage family life during the school year. The lack of sufficient information so late in the summer holidays is another barrier for women trying to return to work or who are currently struggling to access childcare.

'I called on the Taoiseach for a timeline of the reopening of schools including details of a funding package to enable schools to reopen this September. I understand that the Minister for Education will be making a comprehensive statement on the matter with no indicative timeline given as to when we will find out more. This needs to happen sooner rather than later.

'And I want to see, alongside the statement from the Minister, a comprehensive package of funding and support to assist schools apply all the necessary health and safety protocols in light of Covid-19.

'It is important that this announcement happens urgently, that the needs of children are central to the reopening framework and that adequate funding is provided to ensure children can continue to get the education they received before the pandemic. Staff and schools must also be supported and funded properly so they can navigate a changing school environment caused by Covid-19. I hope the announcement is one that will bring much needed clarity and assurance for all those within school communities across Wicklow and the country,' added Deputy Whitmore.

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