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Foley to appear before Covid committee and face questions on school safety

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Clarity: Parent and teacher groups will today raise concerns with Minister for Education Norma Foley. Photo: Julien Behal

Clarity: Parent and teacher groups will today raise concerns with Minister for Education Norma Foley. Photo: Julien Behal

Clarity: Parent and teacher groups will today raise concerns with Minister for Education Norma Foley. Photo: Julien Behal

Education Minister Norma Foley will today hear concerns about a lack of physical distancing, students not wearing masks and response plans in place to handle confirmed cases of coronavirus in schools.

Ms Foley will appear before the Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19 Response as it examines the reopening of schools and the marking of State exams.

Representatives of parents and teacher groups are expected to make a range of submissions about how the reopening of schools has operated on the ground.

While there are many positives, unions will raise a number of issues and seek clarity in some areas.

The Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) said it had received reports in recent days of some schools not having the necessary measures in place to ensure physical distancing of up to two metres.

It referenced its recent survey of more than 120 secondary schools which highlighted how nearly half faced significant challenges in employing contractors to make adjustments to buildings.

The Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland (ASTI), meanwhile, said it has concerns about plans in place to handle outbreaks.

"We want our concerns addressed and the rationale for much of what has been put in place explained," a spokesman said.

Some of the provisions of concern include the lack of a blanket policy on testing entire year groups and classes in the event of a positive case, and the fact that schools are not required to inform all parents about a confirmed case, only "close contacts".

The ASTI has also asked why there was no recommendation to put Perspex in front of teachers' desks in classrooms and why no temperature testing is being carried out at schools.

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It said clear guidance should have been given ahead of reopening on the numbers that could congregate for assemblies, following the controversy over 152 pupils gathering at St Leo's College in Carlow for prayer last week.

Parents are concerned that the necessity to wear masks in secondary schools, when physical distancing is not possible, "may not be applied".

They are calling for students to wear masks while moving through crowded corridors or congregating at various locations.

The National Parents Council said it "appreciated the commitment of Government to provide substantial funds to assist schools to reopen", adding that it is extremely grateful to individual school management for their "hard work and dedication".

Speaking before the meeting, committee chairman Michael McNamara TD said: "Hundreds and thousands of children and teenagers returned to school over recent days for the first time in six months.

"The committee will review the preparations needed for the safe reopening of schools. This will include looking at the capacity of existing school buildings to facilitate social distancing, school transport provision, and response plans in place for potential outbreaks in schools or plans in place when a child is being tested or tests positive."

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