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Some school children returning and others not 'would be discrimination' - Children's Ombudsman

Schools have been closed since 12 March as part of efforts to stop the spread of Covid-19.

An empty Junior Infants classroom  at Gardiner Street Primary School.
An empty Junior Infants classroom at Gardiner Street Primary School.
Image: Sam Boal

CHILDREN’S OMBUDSMAN DR. Niall Muldoon has said the notion of some children going back to school and others not doing so would amount to discrimination. 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said yesterday that the government is planning for a return to school for students in August but that all students may not be able to attend school every day.

Schools have been closed since 12 March as part of efforts to stop the spread of Covid-19 and both the Junior and Leaving Certificate examinations have been cancelled. 

Speaking this afternoon on RTÉ’s Saturday with Cormac Ó hEadhra, Muldoon said that if some students had less access to education it would impinge on their rights. 

“The concept of some students coming back and some not, that would be very anathema to children’s rights,” he said. 

I think we already know that children with special needs, children with inappropriate digital access, who are already disadvantaged. I heard Deputy (Thomas) Byrne talking about online learning not necessarily becoming a norm because we haven’t facilitated, we haven’t paid for it and we haven’t rolled it out properly.

“So I would be worried that children with special needs may not come in often enough over the next period of time after August, but that would be discrimination, that just couldn’t be allowed. I think they probably need to be looked at coming in earlier,” he added. 

0240 No Place Like Home The Ombudsman for Children’s Dr Niall Muldoon. Source: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Muldoon also said that, regardless of the exceptional circumstances of Covid-19, children must be treated equally. 

“The restrictions are there but I think when you look at how you ensure equality across the board, you’ve got to try and make sure that everybody is treated equally. But I think the impact of Covid-19 on children with special education needs has been twice as big as it has been for other people,” he said. 

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Plan

Labour TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin has also called on the government to outline a plan about how schools reopen in three month’s time. 

The Dublin Bay North deputy said that he has been contact by school authorities who have said that they are likely to have a smaller allocation of teachers next year. 

“Schools need clarity on what is going to happen in September as soon as possible as if they need to reconfigure classrooms, plan for extra sanitation measures or order PPE, they need as much time as possible but more importantly they will need financial support from government,” he said. 

“There is a real concern amongst school leadership teams that there will be a drop in students returning to schools in September. The Department of Education needs to have the foresight to invest in home school liaison and pastoral care initiatives to ensure that those who need our education system the most, return to school in September.”

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Rónán Duffy

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