Written answers

Thursday, 17 December 2020

Department of Education and Skills

Covid-19 Pandemic

Photo of Gary GannonGary Gannon (Dublin Central, Social Democrats)
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408. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the number of schools which have been forced to open against the wishes of the boards of management and principals due to high positivity rates for Covid-19 since the reopening of schools earlier in 2020.; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44551/20]

Norma Foley (Kerry, Fianna Fail)
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When a covid-19 positive case connected with a school arises, public health contact the school and undertake a public health risk assessment to identify the actions required. The response to confirmed cases or outbreaks of Covid-19 in a school will be led and managed by Public Health HSE. Schools are advised to follow the recommendations of the public health specialists in these circumstances.

This practice ensures that no principal or board of management is burdened with the responsibility of making public health decisions in relation to their school. The public health response to schools this term has been enhanced by the HSE through the increased resourcing of existing School Teams in each HSE area. A dedicated phone number 'HSE live Covid-19 Principal school line is provided by the HSE for school principals to ring in circumstances where they need assistance from Public Health in relation to a confirmed case of Covid-19 within their school community.

The Department of Education will also provide support to the school if they have concerns or are unsure of what course of action to take. My Department engages with schools to provide support when dealing with Covid-19 on a daily basis. In this context my Department is only aware of three schools who sought not to follow public health advice in response to a Covid-19 case.

It should be noted that to date there the public health evidence shows that schools are safe places and that the risk of Covid-19 has been managed very well within the school environment.

Photo of Gary GannonGary Gannon (Dublin Central, Social Democrats)
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409. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the extent to which her Department has had communication with a school (details supplied) in County Mayo; the dates on, and methods by, which these communications took place; if her Department has spoken with the principal and board of management or had communication with the school outside of the directive sent from her Department to reopen the school; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44552/20]

Norma Foley (Kerry, Fianna Fail)
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Public health specialists have been working with school referred to by the deputy and my official’s engaged with the school principal by phone on 11 September in relation to the decision to close the school.

Public health specialists working with schools and my Department are closely monitoring the situation in all schools to ensure that where schools are open with appropriate infection prevention and control measures, there is no additional threat to public health.

To date the evidence demonstrates that schools are operating safely supported by significant investment to support all infection prevention and control measures recommended by the public health authorities.

When a positive case arises in a school community, the local Public Health team will work with the school and undertake a Public Health Risk Assessment.

Once the risk assessment is complete, the Department of Public Health will then advise the school of the public health instructions which then should be followed by the school.

It is important that such decisions are made by public health experts and that all schools follow public health advice at all times. Schools are also advised to contact my Department’s school’s COVID-19 Helpline for advice in advance of making any decisions to fully or partially close a school or if they are unsure of what course of action to take.

This practice ensures that no principal is burdened with the responsibility of making a public health decision in relation to the closure or otherwise of schools.

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 has been in contact with the school referred to by the deputy to offer support in relation to the academic, social and emotional needs of their students.

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