The Irish Second-Level Students’ Union (ISSU) expresses its serious apprehension over the continuation of schooling without improved measures to support student safety, wellbeing and learning. The recent move to further restrictions is posing a very serious and stressful worry on students, families and the entire school community.The ISSU is very aware that the negative impact felt by young people in previous school closures was exponential and that a return to previous full closures could negatively affect students again. The Department of Education and Skills and the Health Service Executive must provide more practical and robust measures to ensure the safe and sustainable continuation of schooling is possible.
The ISSU is extremely concerned about the contact tracing mechanism implemented for schools. We have received reports of delays in the assessment of transmission in a school, communication of cases/close contacts and dissatisfaction as to what is deemed a close contact .With the decision made to keep schools open the deficiencies in contact tracing within schools must be prioritised and improved immediately. The issues noted have increased student anxiety and fear, causing a substantial strain on student wellbeing. Students must feel safe going to school.
The ISSU has additional concerns around the continuity of learning for students who must isolate at home due to being confirmed a positive case or close contact, are medically vulnerable or have immediate family members at high risk. We are calling for the Department of Education and Skills to release an official online learning strategy. This strategy should outline the appropriate measures a school is required to implement for the effective continuation of learning. Students should not be penalised for not being able to attend school due to health concerns or advised isolation during a pandemic.
ISSU President Reuban Murray commented; “This is a terribly stressful time for students and there are a wide variety of issues that need to be tackled. The close contact definition for students currently means that if a student has sat next to someone in a classroom all day who is a positive case; they are not deemed a close contact. Students are being over assessed, being told that there are now exams every month and these grades will be used if calculated grades are implemented again – now every class test is a leaving cert exam for these students. This isn’t sustainable. Most importantly we have to truly establish if schools are safe. We need an urgent review of the safety measures in schools and complete assurance by epidemiologists that schools are safe not “they are not key drivers for infection”. We need to know if they are safe.”