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Safe or Unsafe? – The Reopening of Schools in the Covid-19 Pandemic

Published on 7 September 2020 at 18:07

 

During the past two weeks, both primary and secondary schools in Ireland have been undertaking the challenge of reopening their doors to the country’s youngest during the pandemic, ensuring to work within the health guidelines set until further notice. The government have brought to light two separate Covid-19 response plans for both primary and post-primary schools, but how effective have they been?

 

Cases

 

As of yesterday, it has been reported that two primary schools in County Dublin have sent children home as a result of either one if their staff or pupils contracting the Covid-19 virus. A letter sent by the HSE to one of the schools in the northside of Dublin confirmed that a health risk assessment had been undertaken and that those who were in close contact to the confirmed case were “advised accordingly”. They went on to advise, “If your child has not been identified as a close contact at this time, your child does not need does not need a test for Covid-19 and may continue to attend school”. It appears that in the extreme case that one person contracts the virus, the HSE will still push for as much student attendance as possible, which is a compromise that some may view as a major risk.

 

On 3rd September 2020, it was reported that one primary school and one secondary school in County Kerry have confirmed two cases of Covid-19. The principal of the secondary school confirmed that one of their pupils had contracted the virus, and the primary school sent their entire senior class home as a result of one of the pupils being a confirmed case. The HSE have contacted both schools. A school in County Clare is also expected to remain closed until further notice after it was discovered that a number of their staff had been in close contact with a person who is a confirmed case of the virus.

Today, a primary school in County Meath has been reported to have had one of their pupils affected by the virus. The HSE advised parents to keep their child and siblings away from school if their children develop any symptoms of the virus. In just two weeks, issues have risen and the HSE has acted accordingly, but it appears the guidelines have not been effective for some.

Teachers

An anonymous reader of The Journal illustrated in an article that the portrayal of teachers in the country has been inaccurate, and with regard to the guidelines she commented, “I know the new Minister for Education Norma Foley hasn’t been in Government a week, but these guidelines are very poorly thought out.” She continued, “My class has 32 children. A normal classroom in our school, a pre-1960 building with many other issues, is about 7×4 metres. One room is about 4×4 m. For the most part, these are big classrooms, true. But to fit 32 children in there, a metre apart? There is no way we can do that. We will have to have half of the school in one day and half of the school in the next.” In addition to her criticism she sought to clear the misconception that teachers are in objection to these guidelines out of “perceived fear”, she disagrees and explains that the objections are a result of the guidelines being impractical and that they “won’t work”.

It is unclear whether her opinion resonates with most people in her place or if it belongs to a minority of teachers, but the fact still stands that the department should be able to accommodate all schools and not just some.

 

Other Countries

 

As for other EU countries, some of which opened their schools in early August, it has been reported that the reopening of schools has not directly resulted in a surge in Covid-19 cases. The ECDC (European Centre for Disease Control) claims that “Child-to-child transmission of the disease in schools is uncommon and not the primary cause of infection in children attending class”.

 

Millions of students have returned to school in Russia, Belgium, France, and Poland. It has been reported that parents fear the virus may coincide with the upcoming flu season, but most governments have concluded that the greater fear is that a large generation of pupils will advance without crucial face-to-face teaching. In France, masks are required for all pupils over 11. In Belgium, over 12. In Russia, masks are only mandatory for members of staff. As for Spain, masks are mandatory for pupils over 6. Norway, Sweden, Denmark have not made masks compulsory for neither staff nor pupils.

 

Conclusion

 

Although the statistics in Ireland and fellow EU countries strike a cause for worry, the ECDC’s report suggests that less than 5% of cases in the EU and the United Kingdom are among children, and that “these are much less likely than adults to be hospitalized or die”. It appears that “available evidence also indicates that closures of childcare and educational institutions are unlikely to be an effective single control measure for community transmission of Covid-19”.


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