'Show us proof virus spreads in schools before you close them'

Angry reaction to talk of extending mid-term break

School pupils (stock)

Luke Byrne

The suggestion that school mid-term holidays could be extended by one week to curb the spread of Covid-19 has provoked a wave of protest from parents, businesses and childcare groups.

Yesterday it emerged such a proposal was briefly discussed by Government, although no firm decision has been made.

It led to criticism from various interested groups who highlighted the potential negative impacts the move would have, if it were implemented.


The impact on working parents and child welfare were among their chief concerns.

Chief executive of the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises association (ISME), Neil McDonnell, said there was "no justification whatsoever" for extending the break.

"It will place an enormous burden in childcare on people and businesses who are already under a great deal of economic stress," he told the Herald

"We would view this very seriously and negatively if it were even contemplated by Government."

Chief executive of the National Parents Council Áine Lynch, highlighted the impact closing schools could have on children, who are just settling back into a normal routine.

The group was opposed to any extension of the break, unless there was an evidence-based reason to do so.

"Children, and we are looking at the primary sector here, children's returning to school has been really positive for them.

"If there was any specific evidence that the spread of Covid-19 was happening in schools we may take a different approach.

"But all of the briefings from the Chief Medial Officer say that's not the case," she told the Herald.

Ms Lynch said it was not just in Ireland, but across Europe the reopening of schools has been positive.

"We feel strongly that schools should stay open as much as possible.

"It has been really good for them, reconnecting with school, their friends, their teachers - it has been really beneficial."

She said talk of the plan seems to contradict the Government's position of wanting to keep schools open.

"We would want to see clear evidence (that Covid-19 is spreading in schools) before we would reconsider our position."

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Department of Education and Skills said last night that no decision has been to extend schools' mid-term breaks.

"To date, the evidence demonstrates that schools have reopened safely supported by significant investment to support all infection prevention and control measures recommended by the public health authorities."

The Department of Health in recent days has advised the Department of Education and Skills that this issue has been afforded careful consideration by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet).

"In recommending that schools remain open at the present time, even in the current trajectory of the disease, the Nphet has considered the national experience of school reopening to date, including the epidemiological data and information gathered through case and outbreak management.

"The Irish experience to date supports the current international position that schools are low risk environments for Covid-19 and are not key drivers of transmission in the community.

"Many cases of Covid-19 linked to schools in Ireland have been found to have exposure to the disease outside of the school environment."

Similarly, where testing of close contacts (of confirmed cases) identifies additional cases of Covid-19, many of these are found to have had exposure outside of the school.

There have been relatively few instances where transmission within a school is strongly suspected by HSE Public Health.