Minister for Education Norma Foley TD today brought a memo to Cabinet which confirms that plans are in place to support the full reopening of schools in time for the start of the new school year at the end of August/start of September 2021.
As has been the case throughout the pandemic, the reopening will be carried out in close consultation with Public Health and the education partners.
Schools have been advised that they should continue to operate with the current infection prevention and control measures in place to support their safe operation during COVID-19 when they reopen in the new term schools will continue to be supported in terms of the additional resources necessary to provide for these measures.
The aim of all of the Covid-19 infection prevention and control measures that have been put in place for schools is to support schools to operate safely and prevent the introduction of Covid-19 and also the onward of transmission of Covid-19 among the school community. These measures protect pupils, their parents and school staff.
School Covid-19 response plans will be updated by the Department and will be available for schools in advance of reopening. It is not envisaged that there will be any updates that require schools to take action in advance of normal reopening.
These plans are based on the Government’s Work Safely Protocol which reflects the most up to date public health advice for the workplace. It sets out the range of measures required to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Minister Foley said:
We are in constant communication with public health specialists ahead of the new school year and we can confirm that we are preparing for a full return of schools in late August and early September.
Public Health has stated that the new variants of the disease do not change the infection prevention and control measures required in schools. The evidence available from the operation of schools during Covid-19 to date shows that schools are low risk environments due to the infection prevention and control measures in place.
The provision of CO2 monitors for every school will be an important tool in keeping our schools safe and in addition to the mitigation measures already in place, our staff and students can be confident of returning to safe environments in our schools.
The Department will also undertake a communications campaign with parents and students/pupils in advance of school reopening to inform and remind them of the arrangements in place in schools operating during Covid-19. This will include specifically targeted information at new pupils entering primary and post-primary schools to ensure they are familiar with the new arrangements.
The Department will continue to engage regularly with key education partners and with the Department of Health and the HSE in respect of the safe operation of schools during Covid-19.
The Department has updated its guidance for schools on Practical Steps for the Deployment of Good Ventilation Practices in Schools.
A copy of the guidance is published here
Managing ventilation is also one of a suite of public health measures in place to keep our schools safe. In this regard, the Department has procured a number of portable monitors which will be distributed to schools in August and September – between 2 and 20 at primary level and between 20 and 35 at post-primary level depending on school size.
The over-arching approach in the guidance is for schools to have windows open as fully as possible when classrooms are not in use (e.g. during break-times or lunch-times and also at the end of each school day) and partially open when classrooms are in use.
The guidance outlines the role that Carbon Dioxide (CO2) monitors can play a part in providing a useful general indication that areas/rooms may not be adequately ventilated and can enable occupants to become familiar with the impact of activities, outdoor weather and window openings on levels of good ventilation.
Schools staff should also note that the HSE has recently published “Education Sector Guidance on Employees in the COVID-19 Higher Risk Categories, including Pregnant Employees” and on foot of this, the Department has issued updated advice to schools in respect of these categories of employee. A copy of this guidance is available here.