Schools will not reopen until September but 'it's still the plan' for Leaving Cert students to get two weeks of classes

It is expected that the Leaving Certificate exams will still go ahead from 29 July.

THE TAOISEACH HAS said schools will not reopen in Ireland until September, at the start of the new academic year.

Leo Varadkar said on RTÉ’s The Late Late Show that “it is still the plan” that students will get classroom time over a two-week period before the exams take place. 

However, no other students will return to school until September. 

It is expected that the Leaving Certificate exams will still go ahead from 29 July. 

“It’s still the plan that sixth years will get some class time before the exams start on the 29th of July, there is a lot of work going on how this can be done safely with social distancing, it’s not straightforward, it is difficult,” the Taoiseach said.

“And of course we are still exploring alternatives, like for example predictive marking, but that’s not perfect either, but we’ll be guided by the public health advice at the end of the day whatever takes place.”

Varadkar said the plan was a “living document”.

He said steps outlined in later phases could potentially be implemented sooner if possible.

The Taoiseach also predicted that the two-metre social distancing guidelines could be reduced, potentially in half.

Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan said the education sector is giving specific consideration and trying to find a way to apply and adhere to public health advice. 

He said the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) is available to the Department of Education to advise on what social distancing measures would need to be in place for students to be able to return to the school environment before the exams.

Holohan said ultimately, the decision rests with the Department of Education. He said it must determine if they can bring Leaving Certificate students back to school for classes while at the same time complying with social distancing rules. 

This evening Leo Vardakar laid out the government’s roadmap for lifting restrictions. Most of the current restrictions will remain in place until 18 May.

Slight changes include an extension of the 5km limit for exercise and over 70s can now go for a walk or drive each day if they avoid contact with other people.

After 18 May, some outdoor work such as construction will be able to restart and gardening centres and hardware stores will be allowed to reopen. The Taoiseach said after this date, small groups of friends and family will be allowed to meet outdoors.

However it will be September before schools can reopen and October before some colleges will reopen for their first semester.

Speaking to RTÉ’s Drivetime this evening, Colm O’Rourke, principal of St Patrick’s Classical School in Navan, said the news today was expected.

“Probably you will have a lot of teenage boys and girls jumping with glee at the prospect,” he said.

“We’ll have to try to keep them engaged until the summer holidays and I think most schools are doing that by basing summer results on assignments that they’ll set over the next month. That’s about the only way to keep them working.”

This evening Varadkar warned that the progress to date “could be swept away” if people do not continue to follow public health guidance.

He said there is a risk we would have to go back a phase if the numbers of cases and hospitalisations grow too quickly.

Until there is a vaccine or an effective treatment, he said there will be a “long-term need” for physical distancing and a continuation of strict hand hygiene practices.

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