By Joe Barrett.
A LAOIS Sinn Féin TD has agreed with a section of the coalition Government’s roadmap for living with Covid-19 grading that keeping schools open is essential.
The Government’s road map for living with Covid-19 will see counties and regions graded 1 to 5 on the prevalence of the virus, with each level dictating the level of restrictions in place in that area.
The Government has made no secret of the fact that it views having schools open as extremely important. Under the new plan, every effort will be made to keep schools, childcare facilities and colleges open. They would only be closed in the event of a region or the country moving to a level five stage of alert.
While agreeing that schools should be kept open, Sinn Féin’s TD Brian Stanley warned that doing so would prove very challenging because in Laois there are 27 classes that have 30 or more pupils in them.
Deputy Stanley said: “The figures showing that there are 1,300 classes across the country with 30 or more children underline the challenges faced by schools to remain open during the pandemic.
“Schools are open, and that is of course to be welcomed. But we cannot be complacent. We need to now ensure that the school doors can remain open, which will be as great a challenge as getting them open in the first place. The reopening of schools was made all the more difficult because we have an underfunded, understaffed, and overcrowded education system.
“There are countless classes that are far too big, in buildings too small and not fit for purpose. Laois has 27 classes of 30 or more.”
The Portlaoise based TD said: “Sinn Féin wants to abolish all classes of over 30 children and work towards attaining an EU average of 20 children per class.
“We want an immediate audit of school buildings to be undertaken, which identifies those schools that are struggling most to comply with social distancing and that require additional space.
“Keeping the virus out of schools and keeping schools open also means supporting parents to do the right thing and keep symptomatic children at home. An assurance is needed that parents who must stay at home with their child are not out of pocket for doing so. We propose the expansion of force majeure leave to allow parents to take paid time off to look after children isolating.
“School children and staff who are symptomatic must be given priority for rapid testing so that staff can return to work and children can return to school rapidly.”
He also said: “Existing educational disadvantages have come to the fore during the pandemic. Children with special educational needs are the cohort who have missed out the most. We are concerned that special educational teachers will be pulled from pillar to post to cover absences, breaks and remote learning. We want to recruit 500 additional SNAs, to ensure that no child loses out.
“Finally, the bus fleet must increase so that social distancing and safer transport of the 120,000 children who take part in the School Transport Scheme can be ensured, this does not come at the cost of some losing their seat on a school bus.”