The Irish Second-level Students’ Union (ISSU) believes that announcing a full reopening of schools, with a two-day notice, is rushing school leaders to put in adequate risk-mitigation measures to ensure a safe return for students. Additionally, the department’s announcement has not responded adequately to the shortages of school and teaching staff, and student absenteeism.
The ISSU notes the high levels of disruption that schools and students have experienced in the last term, and that any return to in-person learning should be done on a phased approach, whilst prioritising exam year students and students with special educational needs.
6th Year Student, Quinton Kelly, said; “As a sixth-year student myself, I am extremely disappointed in the Department of Education’s decision to have a full reopening of schools. With case numbers rising and school attendance depleting, I am not assured that each student will receive the same standard of education. If we see extreme absences this week while having in-person teaching, it leaves no room for online learning equivalents for absent students. With a substitution crisis in place, the cover needed for absent teachers simply does not exist. From my own experience, I am not confident that the new measures in place will make an effective change in time for a sudden full return to school”
ISSU Uachtarán Emer Neville, after attending a briefing with the Department, said; “Last nights’ briefing has left students in a position of major uncertainty, and schools will have little time to assess their absences and plan adequately for reopening schools safely. With the high levels of close contacts and COVID-19 infections currently affecting the country, many students will either be unable to return to school or will be welcomed back to school on Thursday by classes without a teacher or substitution. Disruptions will remain a major issue for teaching and learning, which leaves students, particularly those in exam years, at an acute disadvantage.”
The ISSU further notes students were not consulted on this announcement. This demonstrates a disregard for how important the voice of students is in this discussion, as an equal stakeholder in education. This approach to finalising the return to school without consultation comes as a surprise, considering a very productive and close relationship between a wider pool of stakeholders with the Department of Education in recent months, in response to the challenges that the pandemic has brought about.
The ISSU is continuing to call for an open and solution-oriented discussion with all education stakeholders on how to minimise disruption of teaching and learning. The union is calling for:
- A phased return to school, starting from Monday, January 10th, prioritising in-person tuition for exam year students and students with Special Education Needs (SEN).
- The urgent sourcing of HEPA filters for all classrooms.
- Additional adjustments to be made to the Leaving Certificate and Junior Cycle exam papers for 2022.
The ISSU is urging all stakeholders in school communities to adhere strictly to public health regulations in order to ensure the safety of schools for all students and staff.