Parents who bring their children on a foreign holiday this summer run the risk of jeopardising their chances of returning to school in September.
Schools are facing significant challenges when it comes to reopening for the new school year, and a safe return for students and staff will only be possible if it is properly funded.
That’s the warning from principal representatives who addressed the Oireachtas Covid-19 response committee on Tuesday.
Alan Mongey, the president of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD), warned families about travelling abroad this summer.
"If parents want students returning to school in September, then heading off on a foreign holiday to Portugal or Spain is going to place significant challenges on the ability of schools to accept those students through the doors in September."
Good practices are needed to keep Covid-19 out of schools, said Mr Mongey, who is the principal of a post-primary school with 1,000 students. He warned a one-size-fits all approach will not work for schools.
“Each has its own unique contextual factors which will impact on what a return to school may look.”
Centralised support, guidance, procurement and direction from the Department of Education will be essential to reduce the burden on school leaders who are tasked with managing the re-opening of schools, he added.
The NAPD would like to see a full return of all students to school, provided it is safe, practical, and possible to do so for students, all school staff and school leaders, Mr Mongey said. However, a financial package will be necessary to implement the recommendations of the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) which include extensive instructions around cleaning, he added.
"This includes resources to ensure adequate levels of cleaning and caretaking staff can be employed. The levels of staffing in this area were depleted during our last recession."
Blended learning - a mix of learning at home and in schools - is set to form some part of education at post-primary level, he added.
"There must be clarity however as to what we mean by blended learning and what are the expectations of schools in this regard. There must be clear guidance produced by the Department of Education and Skills to ensure equity of provision for all students."
In order to fully implement public health guidelines for schools, additional funding is urgently needed for cleaning, training and supervision.
Substitute teachers will also be essential when it comes to managing the reopening phase, he added. The HPSC has advised staff and students not to attend school if they have any symptoms of respiratory infection.
"Schools also need to have flexibility in how they allocate staff to comply with social distancing requirements, including arrangements for shared Special Education and teachers who work in multiple classrooms and/or in multiple schools, while ensuring that the most vulnerable children receive the required support," Mr Mongey said.