Children’s Ombudsman: Schools should remain open despite the upsurge in Covid cases
The children’s ombudsperson has called on the government to keep schools open, saying closures cannot be the “default response” to the surge in Covid-19 cases.
Dr Niall Muldoon urged leaders to explore all options and maintain their commitment to keep schools open, warning that the most vulnerable are “disproportionately affected”.
It comes as the secondary teachers’ union ASTI has called for a “delayed and phased reopening” of schools, which are set to resume on Thursday.
The education ministry, health officials, unions and school governing bodies are meeting on Tuesday to discuss the matter.
Dr Muldoon said: “Closing schools and denying children access to in-person learning cannot be our default response.
“There is no doubt that the extremely high number of cases resulting from the Omicron variant will be a challenge for everyone in the school community but, almost two years after the start of the pandemic, we know the negative impact of the closures. schools, not only on children’s learning, but on their social development.
“We also know that the most vulnerable children and those with special needs are disproportionately affected. “
Dr Muldoon supported the view of Special Rapporteur on Child Protection Dr Conor O’Mahony, who said earlier this week that the closures are not a simple compromise between education and health .
“The negative impacts are wider and deeper than missing a few weeks of class,” he added.
He said the government should make sure it has exhausted “all protection and mitigation measures” before it turns to closing schools.
In a statement released on Monday, ASTI warned that reopening schools without introducing additional security measures would be an “unacceptable risk”.
The union raised concerns about the safety of school communities, staff shortages due to inadequate ventilation from Covid and the lack of Hepa air filtration devices and the risks to people with compromised immune systems.
“We will ask the minister to consider making antigen testing available to all parents and their children to use before going to school as a complement to the testing and tracing regime that exists in high schools,” he said. said union president Eamon Dennehy.
“ASTI will also call for the rapid deployment of Hepa filtration units.
“It is beyond comprehension that almost two years after the start of this pandemic, this basic facility is not in place where it is needed.”
The mediator agreed such steps needed to be taken and said he wrote to the Taoiseach before Christmas outlining his view that schools should remain open despite the threat of the Omicron variant.
“We should be trying to make this happen, rather than retreating and reverting to the same measures that were counted on 12 months ago,” he said.
“Every school, whether primary or secondary, faces its own unique issues and circumstances and we need to help principals make the right decisions for their school.
“A one-size-fits-all approach is in no one’s best interest. “
He added: “While the increase in Covid-19 cases over the Christmas holidays has been frightening, it was not unforeseen.
“I wrote to the Taoiseach ahead of the Christmas holidays in light of the Omicron warnings, and reinforced my opinion that keeping schools open is in the best interests of children.”
“Every effort should be made to ensure that Ireland, like most other countries in Europe, reopens our schools,” Dr Muldoon said.