Government must prioritise the return to school for all children to avoid the "immense damage" the prolonged closures had on young people last year, children’s advocates have warned.
AsIAm, Barnardos, the Children’s Rights Alliance, DownSyndrome Ireland, Inclusion Ireland, the ISPCC, and the National Parents Council Primary have called for schools to be the first sector to be reopened.
With one week of homeschooling down for thousands of students, parents, and their teachers across the country, education minister Norma Foley said schools should reopen on February 1, subject to public health advice.
A spokesperson for the children's rights groups said: “As the number of cases continues to decrease over the coming weeks, as predicted by public health experts, we call for the Government to make good on their promise to prioritise education as the first sector that will reopen.
"We are urging Government to work with stakeholders to support these children to return to their school as soon as possible.”
Ireland is not the only country coming to terms with the new strain of the virus and balancing restrictions while a vaccine programme is rolled out, they added.
"But no other country has closed schools for all students," the spokesperson said.
"Public health representatives have repeatedly stated that schools are safe environments and the reality is, for some children school is, in fact, their ‘support bubble’ — their friends and their teachers."
Some in-person schooling is planned to return on a phased basis from next Thursday for children in special schools and classes.
Meanwhile, talks about this year's State exams are expected to intensify next week as the State Exams advisory group, made up of groups representing teachers, principals, students, parents, and school management bodies meets.
The Irish Second-Level Students' Union is due to release the results of its student survey on what they would like to happen with the 2021 exams.