Dáil debates

Wednesday, 24 November 2021

Covid-19: New Measures: Statements

 

6:47 pm

Photo of Paul DonnellyPaul Donnelly (Dublin West, Sinn Fein)

This evening I would like to address the issue of confusion about Covid-19 in schools. It is compounded by the repeated assertions from the Minister for Education that the situation in schools is fine. We know from repeated messages from parents that everything is far from fine. Teachers, special needs assistants, cleaning staff and parents just want honesty. Yesterday alone, I received first-hand reports of schools with three classes where there are more than four positive cases of Covid-19. Two of these classes were in the same school and teachers were out on sick leave. The principal was forced to close two of those classrooms and send the children home due to an outbreak. Schools have been struggling for months to get substitute teachers. I welcome the Minister's comments yesterday and the action on this. However, a simple strategy for substitute teachers when the schools came back in September would have given people confidence and much-needed support.

Communication between schools and parents is also verging on the comical, with coded messaging being given to parents regarding outbreaks of Covid-19, because the word “Covid-19” is prohibited. I will give the Minister an example of how ridiculous this is. One of the local schools in my area of Dublin 15 has said:

We have been told by the Government, the Department of Education and the HSE not to inform parents of any Covid-19 positive cases in the school. In fact, the only way we now hear about positive cases is when the parents of a child are kind enough to inform the school. Even then we cannot pass on the information. However, I have been thinking about this for a while. In Ireland, we are always allowed to talk about the weather. So, here is the weather forecast for our school in St. Luke's at the moment. The weather can change quite suddenly and at any given time. Please take the necessary precautions if you think your child is experiencing any symptoms as a result of the weather. Book a test if necessary. It is raining in junior infants class and senior infants class. It is raining very heavily in sixth class and in second class. We are monitoring the weather in junior and senior infants.

If that is the way schools are being forced to communicate, we can see how bad the situation is at the moment. I have spoken to many teachers and principals. They are talking about contact tracing and isolation. It is taking far too long to roll out the antigen testing. We have been talking about HEPA filtration systems for months. We know they are needed in all classrooms. As the Minister can see, things are not fine. Teachers, principals, special needs assistants, secretaries, cleaners and catering staff who show up for work daily need clear and concise plans.

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