Education Minster Norma Foley is widely expected to announce the closure of most schools this afternoon (Wednesday) in a bid to curtail the spread of COVID-19.
s The Kerryman went to press on Tuesday evening, the Tralee-based Fianna Fáil TD was facing her toughest decision since she took charge of the Department of Eduction last June.
While the Government had been keen for schools to reopen on January 11, surging COVID case numbers and growing pressure from parents, teachers and political opponents has led to a change of heart.
Previously, keeping schools open at all costs was a red-line issue for Micheál Martin, who tasked first-time TD with the job of getting more than 4,000 schools back open in September.
The reopening of schools, under Minister Foley’s watch, has been one of the Government’s most significant achievements, and while there have been several isolated outbreaks, the country’s schools have remained largely COVID free.
The recent surge in virus cases, coupled with its more virulent strain, have changed the Government’s mind on the matter, and there is a growing realisation that schools cannot open while efforts to stem the recent viral surge are underway.
Minister Foley met members of the opposition and education unions on Monday and Tuesday, and following a cabinet meeting today (Wednesday) it is expected that she will announce that most schools are to remain closed until the end of the month, or until NPHET advises it is safe for them to reopen. While Tony Holohan and NPHET believe that schools are generally safe in terms of COVID transmission, they are concerned about the increased public movement their opening will lead to.
Though most schools are expected to remain shut, Minister Foley is understood to be keen for special schools to reopen
At today’s cabinet meeting, Minister Foley is expected to push to ensure that special schools and special classes within mainstream schools remain open while the rest of the sector is closed.
This move is aimed at easing the burden on parents of children with special needs while also ensuring the students have a much needed educational outlet during the third national lockdown.
The closure of schools was seen as especially difficult for special needs students and their families. Minister Foley and her Department had already been working on plans to keep these students in class in the event of another schools closure.