Thursday, 17 December 2020
Department of Education and Skills
401. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the plans in place to guarantee remote access to education for children with high-risk relatives in terms of Covid-19; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44500/20]
410. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if remote blended learning will be considered for students who have family members who are immunocompromised and therefore at a higher risk of contracting Covid-19; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44556/20]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 401 and 410 together.
In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic the Government has identified as an objective that all students should return to education as normal to the fullest extent possible, while minimising the risks from a public health perspective. Schools have put significant measures in place to reduce the risk of coronavirus being transmitted to/within the school and significant funding has been provided to support schools in this respect.
The HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) has issued specific advice about children attending school in the context of covid-19. This advice covers both children with underlying medical conditions and children living with family members with underlying conditions. For all children, care should continue to be taken to reduce transmission through the measures promoted by HPSC.
The advice outlines the view of public health that given current knowledge about COVID-19 disease in children, it is difficult to justify cocooning in most children with underlying conditions. Long-term cocooning of children with complex medical needs is likely to adversely affect them and may outweigh the potential risk of infection.
The HPSC advice goes on to advise that children with immediate family members, including parents, in both the ‘high risk’ and ‘very high risk’ categories can return to school and it is important for the child’s overall well-being. This is consistent with public health advice internationally in relation to at-risk family members. The priority is that the household continues to follow all current advice on how to minimise the risk of coronavirus, through regular hand washing, etc.
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 will work with schools to support them to meet the needs of their pupils on their return to school.