Written answers

Tuesday, 23 November 2021

Department of Education and Skills

Covid-19 Pandemic

Photo of Jackie CahillJackie Cahill (Tipperary, Fianna Fail)
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117. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if she will report on the public health supports available to schools. [57303/21]

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North, Labour)
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139. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the specific measures being taken to help identify, assess and reduce Covid-19 transmission levels in primary and secondary schools including the provision of adequate air filtration, mask wearing, provision of booster vaccines to school staff, reinstatement of contact tracing and other measures she is examining. [57182/21]

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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157. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the extent to which she remains satisfied that sufficient steps have been taken to protect teachers and children from the current Covid-19 surge; if further protective measures are contemplated in order to minimise the risk for all those involved in the education sector; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57221/21]

Photo of Rose Conway-WalshRose Conway-Walsh (Mayo, Sinn Fein)
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172. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the steps she is taking to stop the spread of Covid-19 in schools and to protect staff, students and the wider community; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57226/21]

Photo of Norma FoleyNorma Foley (Kerry, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 117, 139, 157 and 172 together.

The Department of Education has always been guided by public health advice in relation to appropriate Covid-19 infection prevention and control measures in place in schools. These measures protect students, their parents and school staff and are very effective.

Public Health continue to advise that the two most important actions to prevent the introduction and spread of Covid-19 (and other respiratory viruses), is by ensuring no-one with new onset symptoms attend school, and that all recommended infection prevention and control measures are in place in line with school Covid response plans.

Each school was provided with an updated COVID-19 Response Plan in advance of the return to school. Significant additional resources of €639m were put into schools in the last academic year to keep schools safe.

Further funding of €57.6 million has been paid by way of Covid-19 capitation to schools in September for the implementation of infection prevention and control measures for this term. This funding will cater for school costs related to hand hygiene measures, PPE requirements, enhanced cleaning supports and supervision.

At primary level, additional management resources for principal release days were provided for Principals and Deputy Principals. Teacher Supply panels were also expanded to cover the majority of primary schools nationwide, and a recent review saw an additional 100 teaching posts added resulting in approximately 480 teaching posts on these panels available to provide substitute cover in schools.

At post primary level over 1000 teaching posts were provided to support social distancing within classrooms, to provide for enhanced supervision arrangements in order to manage and prevent congregation of large groups of students and ensure the careful movement in a socially distant manner to classes for specialist subjects where it is neither practical nor possible to remain in the classroom. This funding also included additional posts for guidance provision.

Managing ventilation is also an important part of the measures to keep our schools safe. Updated guidance for schools on Practical Steps for the Deployment of Good Ventilation Practices in Schools was provided at the end of May following the work of an expert group that carefully considered the role of ventilation in managing COVID-19. The Departments guidance is clear that where the recommended measures have been undertaken, and poor ventilation continues to exist in a particular room, air cleaners may be considered as an additional measure in conjunction with other methods of ventilation that are available. The guidance outlines that Carbon Dioxide (CO2 ) monitors, which were provided to schools, can play a part in providing a useful general indication that rooms may not be adequately ventilated.

The Department of Health and the HSE, working in collaboration with my Department has recently announced a programme in which antigen tests will be made available to children in a primary school pod, where a child in the pod is a confirmed case of COVID-19. The tests will be sent to the children’s parents.

Parents and Guardians of a primary school child, who is a confirmed case of COVID-19 following a PCR test, are asked to inform their school’s principal. The school principal will then inform the parents of other children in the pod of a confirmed case. No personal details of the child will be shared. These parents will be provided with the option to receive free antigen tests for their child, which they will be able to order for delivery to their home.

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