Written answers

Thursday, 15 October 2020

Department of Education and Skills

Covid-19 Pandemic

Photo of Holly CairnsHolly Cairns (Cork South West, Social Democrats)
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204. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if children and young persons with underlying health conditions that make them vulnerable to Covid-19 are allowed to participate in school remotely and are exempt from physical attendance rules; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30866/20]

Norma Foley (Kerry, Fianna Fail)
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My Department has published a suite of helpful guidance for the safe and sustainable operation of schools. Each school is required to have a COVID-19 Response Plan for the safe operation through the prevention, early detection and control of COVID-19 in line with public health advice. This guidance is focused on the practical steps schools must take to minimise the risk of transmission of infection.

The Roadmap for the Full Return to School provides guidance in relation to maintaining physical distancing in schools including public health advice which sets out that the principle of distancing can be usefully applied in the school setting, allowing for some flexibility when needed and notes that it must be applied in a practical way, recognising that the learning environment cannot be dominated by a potentially counterproductive focus on this issue.

Increasing separation and decreasing interaction is the basis of which physical distancing is achieved in schools in so far as is practicable and applies to all staff and pupils. However at primary level public health advice also recognises that achieving this outcome in the first four years of primary school, is not a prerequisite to reopening a primary schools for all pupils.

The Health Protection Surveillance Centre and HSE has published guidance in relation to the return to school for at risk groups. The advice confirms that for the vast majority of children, can return to school and it is important for the overall health and wellbeing for children to attend school. This is consistent with public health advice internationally. The guidance is available at the following link.

www.hpsc.ie/a-z/respiratory/coronavirus/novelcoronavirus/guidance/educationguidance/HSE%20advice%20on%20return%20to%20school.pdf.

My Department has also published guidance to support schools in making adapted education provision for those children who cannot return to school because they are medically certified as being at ‘very high risk’ to COVID-19.

In addition my Department has also developed and prepared a comprehensive response to supporting the wellbeing of school communities at this time. The National Educational Psychological Service is also working with schools to support them to meet the needs of their pupils particularly those who are anxious at this time.

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