The siblings of children who are considered very high risk when it comes to Covid-19 are not being provided with remote learning, according to a worried mother of two.
Tracy McGinnis, who is a full-time carer to her son Brendan, says her younger son Declan is expected to attend in-person classes in secondary school, despite the serious risk Covid poses to his brother.
Brendan has many health issues, including intractable epilepsy, severe cerebral palsy, unilateral deafness, intellectual disability, intestinal functioning issues, osteoporosis, scoliosis, lung disease, hip dysplasia, and pressure sore issues.
She says there is no provision from the Department of Education for remote learning in these circumstances, and that only students who are very high risk themselves are allowed to learn online.
The HSE distinguishes between individuals who are 'very high risk' and 'high risk' in terms of Covid-19.
The department stipulates that only very high-risk students can continue remote learning. High-risk students, and the siblings or parents of very high-risk or high-risk individuals, are expected to return to school.
Ms McGinnis says this puts her in a very difficult situation. "I'm in the high-risk category myself, I'm their only parent. What if something happens to me, God forbid?
She says: "No consideration has been given to high-risk students, teachers, or family members who are in either category.
"The department does not seem to have a Plan B for remote learning. They've left it entirely up to each school on how to deliver learning to those few very high-risk students."
Ms McGinnis says that Declan's school has been supportive, but they don't have the resources to facilitate remote learning.
She says: "They cannot offer remote teaching as they wouldn't have the teachers. I was also told that there are 24 desks in the room, and they are [just about] 1m apart.
"While they agree it would be safer for Declan to stay home for Brendan and my health, they just can't provide online teaching.
Declan will also have to take the bus to school as Tracy cannot leave Brendan unattended.
Ms McGinnis: "The school bus is run by a private bus company, with no social distancing and only masks. Plus it's €30 per week."
She says that Declan does not think he will be able to focus if he was learning from home.
She says: "He really needs a teacher to direct him. I'm not that. I can't do that and care for Brendan."
However, Declan is also very worried about the virus. Ms McGinnis says: "He's said that losing his family is worse than losing a year of education."
Ms McGinnis thinks that remote learning could be provided for secondary school students by streaming or recording the classes they are supposed to attend.
She says: "I hold NPHET, the Department of Health and the relevant government ministers responsible for pushing for full school reopening while cases rise, based on the idea that kids don't get very ill from Covid, without considering the very high-risk family they go home to."
In a statement, the Department of Education said: "Guidance published for primary schools is intended to support schools in making adapted education provision for pupils who cannot return to school because they are medically certified as being at very high risk to Covid-19. Post Primary Guidance is also being finalised but it is more complex due to the range of subjects, etc."
The Department added that the guidance in relation to remote learning applies to very high-risk pupils with an underlying medical condition only.
It said: "All other pupils are expected to return to school."
When asked about high-risk pupils, or students who have family members who are very high risk or high risk, the department said: "The HSE has produced guidance for people living with someone in their household who is medically vulnerable.
"This indicates that whilst the rest of the household is not required to adopt protective cocooning measures for themselves, they should do what they can to support the person who is cocooning and follow the advice provided by the HSE which includes hand hygiene measures, respiratory etiquette, other cleaning and hygiene measures and physical distancing.
"Where a family has a school-going child and a medically vulnerable individual, they should engage with their medical team and their child’s school."