Public health rules will prevent Leaving Cert candidates sitting an exam if they have any Covid-style symptoms – but that may not apply to hay fever sufferers.
The strict advice to schools is that “in all circumstances, public health considerations must take precedence over examinations attendance”.
The State Examinations Commission (SEC) says while best efforts are being made to ensure all candidates who want to sit exams will be able to sit them, “it is entirely possible that not all candidates will be able to do so”.
Arrangements for the exams, starting tomorrow, follow detailed engagement between the SEC and the Public Health authorities.
Students will be excluded from the exams in straightforward cases of Covid diagnosis or where they have been instructed to self-isolate, they are quarantining or restricting their movements, or they are a close contact of a confirmed case
Nor will be they be allowed into school if they are unwell or have any symptoms of Covid-19, and infection has not been ruled out.
In cases of doubt and with less than 30 minutes or an hour to go to the start of an exam, principals or other school leaders may find themselves facing a difficult situation around whether a student can sit the exam. But it won’t be up to them to decide.
The SEC has advised that school management should not take any action nor should they refuse entry to the exam to those they believe may be close contacts, or those they believe to be unwell or have symptoms.
“These determinations will be made by Public Health in a timely manner,” the SEC stated.
When dealing with a confirmed case, or in the event of doubt, schools are told to contact the dedicated HSE live Covid-19 principal line, which will provide support and assistance. Where there is a doubt about a student’s condition or association with a case, public- health personnel will, in the first instance, advise school management over the phone about whether the candidate can sit the exam.
The SEC told the Irish Independent that if a candidate has a condition such as hay fever, “then such a condition should already be known to the candidate and to the school”.
There will generally be more than one exam centre in any school and in a worst-case scenario, a centre, or centres, may have to close because of Covid outbreak, and such a decision would be taken by public-health officials.
Covid aside, students may experience an accident, or other trauma either immediately before or during the exams and the SEC said every effort will be made to accommodate them “but due to Covid-19, there are significant limitations to what can be arranged”.
There will be no sittings of exams in hospitals, as often happens, or other out-of-school settings, and if there is any concern that an illness is Covid-related candidates will not be able to take their exams.
The SEC said if a candidate gets ill, and it is clear it is a non-Covid-19 illness, or is injured, certain limited arrangements may be made.
These may include supervised rest breaks during the exams, access to a smaller exam centre; and alterations to the start and end time of the exams as long it is taken on the date on the timetable. In the event of a bereavement of a close relative, a student may be allowed a late or early start to an exam on the day of the funeral.
Over the course of the exams, schools and students are expected to follow the same basic public health measures in relation to social distancing, hand washing, respiratory etiquette wearing face coverings, as they have been since September. In the exam centre, all desks will be at least two metres apart on all sides.
Once the exams start, students are urged to stay within their exam centre pod, before, between and after exams.
They have also been asked to limit interactions with others even in outdoor settings and avoid gatherings that present risks of Covid-19, including not getting together with other candidates in study groups.
The SEC said “careful adherence by schools to the published guidance and adherence by all to the basic public health measures for preventing the spread of infection should ensure that the vast majority of candidates get to sit their examinations.
“Notwithstanding the very best efforts of all concerned, there are likely to be circumstances in which individual candidates or groups of candidates will be unable to take their examinations and will instead have to rely on accredited grades.”
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