Schools should reopen when it’s safe to do so

Covid-19 did not cause overcrowding in schools, but it has exposed it. Schools are reopening with up to thirty people in a confined space for extended periods. There are almost a million children, teenagers and teachers in four thousand schools.

In the two weeks before reopening, more than a hundred children between five and fourteen caught covid-19. More than forty schools in Germany were forced to close two weeks after reopening because of multiple outbreaks, with a thousand children forced to isolate.

There were thirty outbreaks in schools in England—70 children and 128 staff members. In America there have been almost half a million cases among children since the pandemic began. We have already had a number of clusters in creches.

Teachers and pupils do not have magical immunity. Ireland’s unique school system depends on the private “voluntary” schools to operate as if they are a state body. Response from the various boards of management differs: some will get it right, many won’t; but, as public servants, teachers deserve a national standard and have a right to a safe place of work.

The Department of Education constantly spins as if it is asserting authority, but it never does. Medmark, the teachers’ occupational health company, contracted by the department to adjudicate on staff illness, are encouraging teachers with underlying health issues to return to work, overruling the teachers’ own medical advice and allowing the decision to be a management one.

If outbreaks are inevitable in schools, why are standards not brought up to the highest level, instead of the watered-down version recommended for schools? Are schools to be the next covid hot spot?

Teachers and pupils are walking into a potential disaster, despite the warnings. Schools must not open until it is safe to do so.