Wednesday, 31 March 2021
Department of Education and Skills
576. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the medical basis on which a decision (details supplied) was reached; the length of time considered short-term; the reason a medical condition such as anxiety would be singled out and those suffering from it have their online education withheld if they feel unsafe at school; if her Department consulted with mental health experts or charities before including same; and if so, the experts or charities consulted with. [16560/21]
It is important to note that ‘students who are experiencing short-term anxiety related to COVID19’ are not students ‘with a medical condition such as anxiety’. Students who have a diagnosis of an anxiety disorder from CAMH or Clinical Psychology HSE services would have a long term mental health issue which would warrant a medical diagnosis. Experiencing short term related anxiety related to COVID 19 is seen as a normal reaction to abnormal events. It’s normal to feel anxious when things are changed.
My Department recognises that we are likely to see a variety of responses amongst our students as schools reopen ranging from excitement and happiness to worry and anxiety, which are normal responses to unprecedented events. Normalising feelings by communicating that we have all struggled with aspects of the latest school closure and school reopening, will help to create a safe environment for students.
With regard to the provision of education for children who are extremely vulnerable to COVID-19, I would like to draw your attention to Guidance published by my Department in relation to students who have been medically certified as being at very high risk from COVID-19. That Guidance is available at:
As that Guidance indicates, it is the responsibility of parents/guardians to seek medical advice and certification to indicate if their child is at very high risk to COVID-19 and to inform the school of this. Where a school receives such medical certification, it will organise the most appropriate support for the student concerned. The Guidance sets out a number of options for schools to facilitate adapted education provision for students at very high risk to COVID-19.
It also stresses the importance of schools putting in place measures so students who are unable to attend in such circumstances will remain as connected as possible with their own school community and classmates, that their learning will continue, as far as possible, in line with the curriculum and in a manner that is closely aligned to the learning of their peers in their various subject classes.
Schools are not required to make adapted education provision for students who are not themselves extremely vulnerable to COVID-19. The medical advice for those who may have immediate family members who are at risk is that the household continues to follow all current advice on how to minimise the risk of COVID-19 as set out on the HSE website . Please note that detailed advice on specific measures within a household are included in
The wellbeing of all students is a fundamental element of my Department’s overall plan in sustaining the safe and effective operation of schools as we continue to manage the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. In this context the National Psychological Service of the Department (NEPS) is leading on supporting the wellbeing of schools communities. The response to support the wellbeing of all within school communities on the return to school requires a structured, psychosocial response which is compassionate, largely preventative and proactive. This requires a whole-school team approach to planning in order to ensure that staff, students and parents feel safe and secure. The Department’s response is aligned with the HSE guidance and based on the five key principles of promoting a sense of safety, calm, connectedness, self- and community-efficacy and hope.