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It is not envisaged that significant PPE will need to be worn when schools reopen, says minister

Guidelines for schools are currently being drafted.

The Department of Education will provide resources to schools to enable them purchase hand-sanitisers for use in the school and classroom.
The Department of Education will provide resources to schools to enable them purchase hand-sanitisers for use in the school and classroom.
Image: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

IT IS NOT envisaged that “significant” personal protective equipment (PPE) will be required when schools reopen in September, Education Minister Joe McHugh has said. 

The minister told the Dáil today that it is still the government’s intention to see a full return to school in late August and September. 

Two weeks ago, McHugh said he wanted to see a “common sense approach” to social distancing guidelines when schools reopen. 

He said primary school pupils will attend school for one day per week and secondary school pupils for two days per week if the two metres social distancing rule remains in place in September.

McHugh said engagement is happening daily in terms of drafting guidelines for schools.

He said there are still a few weeks to go before schools open the doors and engagement with stakeholders is ongoing.

“This gives us time to continue to consult with the public health experts to develop and plan appropriate guidance. It is my ambition and that of my officials to work with the education partners to minimise the work involved at an individual school level. Where we can we will provide centralised support and guidance to schools to enable them to reopen in a safe manner in the new school term,” he said

He said the knowledge and understanding of the virus is growing all the time.

The minister confirmed that additional resources will be provided to schools to enable enhanced cleaning.

However, the existing hand washing facilities in some schools are not designed for the enhanced level of hand washing envisaged necessary in the Covid-19 environment without significantly impacting on educational class time, said the minister.

The Department of Education will provide resources to schools to enable them purchase hand-sanitisers for use in the school and classroom. 

“The procurement process for this framework is now underway and it will also deal with any other potential PPE requirements. It is not envisaged that significant PPE will be required in school settings. Details on funding will be provided in due course,” he said.

Blended learning for students is still on the cards, as of now.

“Notwithstanding our overall objective, planning for a blended learning approach (on-line and in-school) will be a feature of our planning to reopen schools as there may
be circumstances where schools will have to have the necessary agility to respond quickly to changed circumstances at local or regional level,” said McHugh.

Kept under review 

In terms of physical distancing, the minister said the current guidelines are being kept under review.

He said the roadmap for reopening the country has been accelerated as the public health evolves, and this could be the case when it comes to schools. 

“Consideration to other mitigating factors in a school setting and emerging evidence on low infection transmission by children may also mitigate some of the risks considered as part of broader public health advice.

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“We also have to be cognisant that maintaining physical distancing in all situations is not possible or appropriate.

“In particular, it may not be practical for children who are quite young and some with special educational needs. In these situations, we need to ensure there are appropriate measures in place to protect children and school staff,” said McHugh.

The minister also outlined more details about the special July school provision for children. 

For the summer provision being rolled out in July,  “there will not be a requirement for strict social distancing for children with special needs as this would neither be practical or possible,” he said.

Prevention and control measures to manage risks will be in place, said McHugh. 

Separately, McHugh said the traditional Leaving Certificate exam for those who chose not to opt in to the calculated grades system won’t go ahead until November at the earliest.

“I’d like the results of the calculated grades to be out as close to the traditional date in August but there’s no guarantee that will happen either.”

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