School leaders and communities should not be expected to have to come up with a solution for continuing with education during the Covid-19 crisis. That’s according to Social Democrats TD for Dublin Central and spokesperson for Education, Gary Gannon.

Speaking ahead of a briefing for Opposition spokespersons by the Minister for Education this afternoon, Deputy Gannon said:

“No two schools are identical. They work in different communities, serving students with different levels of needs, varying infrastructure and different access to digital tools and equipment.

“We need more than binary options of schools being either opened or closed and blanket statements from the Department. We need a range of different learning options and supports for all schools, particularly those who work with students from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds and students with disabilities, who are more vulnerable to regressing.

“Remote learning and blended learning options cannot be ad hoc. We need a national strategy with guidance and support from the Department – something that was needed months ago.

“Our continued reactionary strategy to dealing with Covid-19 and the narrative that classrooms are sacrosanct when it comes to the virus has left us in a similar situation to when schools first closed.

“Before reopening any school building, we need to truly understand, support and communicate with the school, whether they are special schools or mainstream DEIS schools. That includes sustained and adequate funding for PPE that continues for as long as the virus remains in our society, as well as considering the risks associated with the journey to and from schools.

“In October, I raised the issue of inadequate levels of PPE in schools through a Parliamentary Question. Just prior to schools closing for Christmas, PPE budgets were slashed. This cannot be the way forward in supporting our schools.

“We all recognise how vital schools are in a functioning society – yet, while reopening schools was a priority, we failed to prioritise educators. That should be our priority now, not the reopening of buildings. The creation of a safe working environment in schools may also require a reexamination of the vaccine allocation.

“As well as national guidance for learning options, Minister Foley needs to answer questions in the Dáil as soon as possible regarding the plan for schools for the next several months. This includes questions around State examinations, PPE for SNAs, the Educational Welfare Service (TESS) and the role of boards of management in safeguarding schools.”

January 4, 2021

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