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All children who are not at-risk expected to return to school, and can miss a max of 20 days off school

This includes children whose parents or other relatives may be at risk, or who may be anxious about the Covid-19 pandemic.

Image: Shutterstock/AKK photo

ALL STUDENTS ARE expected to return to school in the coming academic year as long as they are not themselves sick or at very high risk, the Department of Education has clarified, and are required not to miss more than 20 days off school. 

This includes children whose parents or other relatives may be at risk, or who may be anxious about the Covid-19 pandemic.

As part of the government’s roadmap to reopen schools released this week, a number of plans were laid out to mark children’s return to school; these include the requirement to wear face coverings on the bus to school, and being grouped into class bubbles and pods.

Education Minister Norma Foley has acknowledged that social distancing isn’t a “prerequisite” for younger children returning to school, but older children will be expected to adhere to at least 1 metre of distance between each other.

On the issue of whether children have to attend school, the document states on page 45 that each school must be ready to both provide for pupils who cannot attend for health reasons related to Covid-19, or where a school may have to close partly or temporarily.

This guidance is in relation to students who are themselves deemed to be at very high risk if they contract Covid-19.

In response to a query from TheJournal.ie on whether students whose parents or elderly relatives would be in an at-risk category, or who are anxious about the prospect of returning to school during a pandemic, the Department of Education said:

Responsibility to ensure that these pupils who are deemed to be at ‘very high risk’ receive appropriate support to engage adequately with learning remains with each school. All other pupils should attend school.

Under the Educational Welfare Act, schools are obliged to inform the Educational Welfare Officer where a pupil has missed more than 20 days in school.

This rule is still to be enforced for the coming academic year, the Department said.

“The Educational Welfare Officer shall consult with the student concerned, his or her parents, the principal and such other persons as he or she considers appropriate, and school concerned and make all reasonable efforts to ensure that provision is made for the continued education of the child and his or her full participation in school.”

“The educational welfare service will work with schools, students and their parents to support them as school returns.”

It advised students to follow the public-health arrangements in schools to protect themselves and to minimise risk of transmitting the virus.

The Department added:

The Department is aware that some parents and children will be experiencing a very natural anxiety about returning to school. That’s a normal response. This is a time of change, with new rules and routines to learn, in order to keep everyone safe.

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“The Department has developed and prepared a comprehensive response to supporting the wellbeing of school communities at this time. This is guided by five essential principles for wellbeing:

  • A sense of safety;
  • A sense of calm;
  • A sense of belonging and connectedness to school;
  • A sense of self-efficacy and school-community efficacy; and
  • A sense of hope

“The National Educational Psychological Service will work with schools to support them to meet the needs of their students as school returns,” the Department of Education said.

You can read the government’s plan for reopening schools here.

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