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Schools shut again due to `potential' risks to pupils

A large tree down on the Upper Malone Road due to the storm. Picture by Mal McCann

EDUCATION chiefs shut schools again in the aftermath of Storm Ophelia due to `potential structural damage' and power outages.

Authorities came under fire by telling all schools to close for a second day in the wake of the storm.

The lateness of the first closure announcement, which came after 10pm on Sunday on social media, angered parents.

Confirmation of a second day off came earlier but baffled many who argued that the storm had already passed.

All schools, north and south, closed their doors on Monday and Tuesday. Colleges and universities also cancelled classes.

The Department of Education said schools would not have to make up days that were approved for "exceptional closure". Some individual schools may make alternative arrangements to recover lost teaching time.

Department permanent secretary Derek Baker wrote to principals saying he had "taken advice from the Met Office on the prolonged nature and potential severity of the storm" prior to confirming the second day of closures.

However, a Met Office spokesman told the BBC that "the department took that decision themselves".

A spokeswoman explained the decision was made while Storm Ophelia was "impacting on communities and services".

She said the aim was to issue a decision as early as possible based on the latest information from the Civil Contingencies Group and the department's "assessment of the potential issues and risks for schools".

"The issues considered included potential power outages at schools, risk to travel arrangements including school transport and potential structural damage to schools and the time required to assess the damage," she said.

"The department was aware that the weather would improve but felt it important that time was given properly to assess the impact of the storm rather than seeking to put children back to school. This decision was not taken lightly by the department and officials were conscious of the impact on parents and businesses, however the priority was always for the safety of the children as well as the staff."

Gerry Murphy of the INTO union said there had been some concern at the lateness of the call to close schools and also the wording of the announcement of Sunday evening.

"The subsequent decision to close again was made and communicated in a more timely fashion. It is the view of INTO that the safety of the children and young people and our members is of paramount importance," he said.

"DE are unlikely to have taken such a step unless they were satisfied this safety was in doubt. I think erring on the side of caution in this case is the right decision."

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