Government doesn't 'have an option' over return to school, says minister

Government doesn't 'have an option' over return to school, says minister
Minister Josepha Madigan said people need to have "faith" in the return-to-school plan. File Picture: Leah Farrell/

A government minister says the country doesn't "have an option" over sending children back to school.

The Minister of State with responsibility for Special Education and Inclusion Josepha Madigan said that although the government is aware of parent and teacher's concerns over the return to school in a week's time, people must have "faith".

"I appreciate that concern and but, you know, we don't have an option here, and we have to open schools," she said.

"Education is a right and has to be provided for as such, and I think, as well that, a school is a controlled environment and once we have adequate cleaning, once we have PPE, once there is social distancing, and then I think we have to have faith in our schools, and in our parents and teachers to ensure that it's well done.

"I think already, there's about €160m that schools have availed of in terms of putting those resources and those measures in place, and with about €370m in total, which will assist. 

"So, I have confidence in the school system, and I have confidence in everybody else involved, that we can roll this out properly and, obviously, if there are issues and there are instances of Covid, each school has an individual Covid response plan, which they, which they utilise to ensure contact tracing is carried out, and this person has isolated and anybody else who's affected by it."

Concern was sparked last week when the Tánaiste admitted that there would be "probably" be clusters when schools return, amid considerable opposition criticism about lack of contingency planning for immunocompromised students.

The minister admitted there could be instances of entire schools going into quarantine if a case breaks out, similar to what schools who have opened internationally have seen. 

"I hope that that doesn't happen, but obviously it's always a possibility," she said. 

"I think it's more a possibility than a probability, and again, once we have the adequate systems in place, the resources are there in terms of social distancing, in terms of cleaning, in terms of PP and galvanising and mobilising all of the stakeholders.

"Teachers and parents and schools themselves have worked considerably over the last number of weeks to ensure that that doesn't happen, and but obviously this is a new way of going back to school and new way of reopening schools and it hasn't happened before in this country so it's going to be a learning curve for everybody, but I'm satisfied the works programme will help in terms of providing the space, so that that doesn't occur."

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