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File image of Education Minister Norma Foley.
File image of Education Minister Norma Foley.
Image: Sam Boal

Education Minister rejects accusation of ‘complacency’ over return of schools

Some opposition politicians were critical of what they labelled “confusing” guidance for when pupils are designated as close contacts.
Sep 21st 2021, 8:22 PM 18,483 22

THE EDUCATION MINISTER has rejected suggestions that the government was “complacent” over the re-opening of schools earlier this month.

Norma Foley faced questions from TDs and senators during an appearance at the Oireachtas Education Committee today.

Some opposition politicians were critical of what they labelled “confusing” guidance for when pupils are designated as close contacts and when they should go to school.

It comes as thousands of pupils were forced to stay at home since the return of schools after being identified as close contacts of a confirmed Covid-19 case.

Labour TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin accused the government of “complacency”, and of having a “nothing to see here attitude” over the number of pupils forced to restrict movement and the adequacy of the public health support in schools.

He said many principals were struggling with the current situation.

“If you’re not hearing what we’re hearing, maybe you’re not listening,” he told the minister.

Foley defended the government’s handling of the return of pupils.

“It would be unfair to characterise our approach as complacent,” she told the committee.

She said that there is a “sense of high priority” when it comes to the education system and the challenge of dealing with Covid-19.

The Education Minister said that there had been “pinch points” for the testing and contact tracing system but insisted that her department was following public health advice.

Sinn Féin TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire said parents were receiving contradictory advice from the HSE and from the Department of Education as to when children with Covid-19 symptoms should stay at home.

Foley insisted that the messaging and guidance was clear.

“There is no confusion in the information that is being disseminated to parents and to school leaders,” she said.

In her opening statement, the Education Minister also said that all schools will have a full supply of carbon dioxide monitors by early October.

Foley said she was “disappointed” at the delay to the plan to provide every Irish school with a carbon dioxide monitor to measure ventilation levels.

The minister said that 96% of primary schools, including special schools, had received their “full allocation” of carbon dioxide monitors, while every Irish secondary school had received at least 10 carbon dioxide monitors.

“Lennox Laboratories was on target to have the full amount of 35,000 CO2 monitors delivered to schools by the beginning of next week. Unfortunately, however, Lennox has been informed by the manufacturer that there is a delay with the delivery of the last batch of 10,000 CO2 monitors, due to a fault with the LCD display unit,” the minister said.

While I am disappointed at the news of a delay, Lennox Laboratories has identified options that should enable the remaining balance of CO2 monitors to be distributed to schools in late September/early October.

“In the interim, the department has advised schools that if they wish they can make arrangements directly for procuring the balance of its CO2 monitors directly themselves, rather than via the current arrangements.”

Earlier this month, Foley said that her department would do all it could to support principals and teachers as pupils returned.

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Foley said: “Throughout the pandemic, the Department of Education has worked intensively with public health professionals from across the health sector and the HSE to support schools. We have been guided by their expertise in all that we have done.

“In advance of reopening, and indeed since schools have reopened, these experts have reviewed the measures put in place to ensure safe operation of schools and are satisfied that these infection prevention and control measures, when implemented correctly and adhered to, will continue to keep the school community safe.”

She said that further funding had been provided to schools for extra cleaning and hygiene measures, as well as for more than 1,000 new teaching jobs to ensure social distancing.

“Funding has also been made available for additional administrative leave days for principals and to provide for substitution arrangements,” she said.

Special education minister Josepha Madigan also appeared before the committee.

She said that she would be calling for an increase in the “level of resources available for both teachers and SNAs” in the upcoming autumn Budget.

In her opening statement, the junior minister said that “the government was correct to prioritise special education in the reopening of schools earlier this year”.

She said that more than 14,000 pupils used a programme to provide extra tuition and care when schools were closed.

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