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Back to school: What are we expecting about plans for the reopening of education?

Students have not been back in school since the Christmas break.

Image: Shutterstock

THERE WAS SOME confusion last night about the exact status of where we are with the reopening of schools

A partial reopening is pencilled in from next Monday 1 March but Health Minister Stephen Donnelly was forced to clarify exactly what had been agreed and with whom.

Speaking on Claire Byrne Live last night he said that Education Minister Norma Foley was “still in negotiations with the unions” before later tweeting that negotiations had concluded. 

Regardless of the apparent mix-up, we should have firm clarity on what the plan is for the return of schools following a Cabinet meeting today, so what are we likely to see? 

Phased reopening

If there’s one word you will be hearing in relation to the reopening schools today it will probably be “phased”. 

This tone has been set for the past few weeks, with Deputy CMO Dr Ronan Glynn perhaps the most strident in emphasising it. 

“A phased return, a cautious slow return” is how he put it following a meeting of NPHET last week. Glynn went on to outline that students will return class-by-class over a number of weeks. 

He said that as classes return public health experts will “monitor the entirety of the situation”. He noted however that a full public public health assessment won’t be required at each point. 

NPHET and the government have frequently pointed out that the risk associated with the reopening of schools isn’t necessarily down to students being in school but how it leads to the wider movement of people. 

“We don’t want more inter-household mixing outside of school settings and we don’t want people returning to workplaces in the context of children returning to schools,” Glynn warned.  

Class-by-class 

So now that we all know that the re-opening is set to be ‘phased’, what students will be in each phase?

Subject to Cabinet approval this afternoon, the plan is that from next Monday (1 March) we’ll see the return of junior infants, senior infants, first class and second class in primary school and Leaving Cert students in sixth year in second-level. 

Two weeks later, all primary school children may begin returning from 15 March with a return for fifth years also expected at this point. 

The remainder of secondary school students won’t be returning to school until after the Easter holidays however. 

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The word ‘may’ is key however, with Foley last week re-emphasising that each phase of the return is to be monitored about how it affects Covid-19 rates. 

Creches 

Similarly, Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman has said that there will also be a “gradual reopening” of creches and childcare. 

The first element of this phased re-opening will be the State’s ECCE scheme, which will return on a phased basis from 8 March. The ECCE scheme is that State’s pre-school programme in which some 100,000 children are enrolled. 

The plan is for the remaining early-years childcare to return by three weeks later on 29 March. 

What else is there?

Aside from the phased reopening of schools, we’re expecting no major other changes to the current level of Covid-19 restrictions. This is to be the case perhaps until May

A review of where we are is expected to be carried out for 5 April when there may be some easing depending on the situation.

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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