Minister for Education: September school return difficult with two metre social distancing rule

The Minister said it was his mission to ensure as many students as possible return to school in September.
Minister for Education: September school return difficult with two metre social distancing rule
Even with a one metre rule it was still unlikely that all students could return Minister for Education Joe McHugh said.

With reporting by Digital Desk staff

Minister for Education Joe McHugh has said that it is difficult to see all students being back in school in September with the two metre social distancing rule in place.

Even with a one metre rule it was still unlikely that all students could return, he told RTÉ radio’s Today with Sarah McInerney show.

Mr McHugh said that the Department of Education will publish a roadmap in two weeks for the return of schools. He also pointed out that the Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan had indicated he would have public health advice within two weeks on the reopening of schools and what would work and not work.

“We have to balance all the risks. We cannot put the education of children on hold.”

The Minister said it was his mission to ensure as many students as possible return to school in September. Public health officials are examining international comparisons to see how the situation is being handled in other countries, he said.

“We are waiting to see what sort of blended education system we are going to have.”

On the issue of the Leaving Certificate Mr McHugh said that as of 9am on Thursday 56,000 of this year’s 61,000 students had registered for calculated grades.

When asked if Thursday’s deadline of 10pm would be extended if every student had not registered by that time, Mr McHugh said “the deadline is the deadline.”

However, he said that if any student missed the deadline the department would reach out to their school. There could be reasons such as digital inequity and if there was a reasonable explanation the department would follow up.

The Minister also defended the decision to have teachers destroy documents on which they base calculated grades. There is a system of checks and balances in place in the school system which will ensure that students are treated fairly, he said. There will also be an appeals process.

A special group has been set up within the Department of Education to examine the issue of school transport, he added. “That’s a challenge.”

It comes amid calls for schools to reopen sooner than planned in September.

Professor of Biochemistry at Trinity College, Luke O Neill said there are a number of benefits in bringing children back to classes sooner rather than later.

He said: "I can't see why a child can't go in for two days a week, it's beyond me and you would have less than half the kids in the school.

"That would be a big decrease in risk even if there was one. I think for the mental health of the children it is extremely important.

"Lots of studies have shown this in the past that children kept outside of school will suffer academically later.

"And then the biggest reason of all, the vulnerable children who can't get homeschooling."

When asked about the possibility of an election this year, Mr McHugh said that an election would not make sense at this time. “I don’t think an election at this time of crisis would be a good thing.

“The world has changed forever. Circumstances have changed.”

Mr McHugh said that politics will have to change. In the past being in opposition had been “a nice place to be,” that is going to have to change. It will no longer just be a case of the government coming up with policies.

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