Education news

Coronavirus: Shielding parents 'extremely scared' as they prepare children for school return

Most classrooms in the north's schools have been empty since social distancing was introduced due to the coronavirus crisis
Edd Dracott and Stephen Jones, PA

Parents shielding from Covid-19 say they are "extremely scared" of the medical risks posed by their children returning to school.

Plans for the return of schools have been drawn up by the Department of Education and have included strict hygiene policies and advice to limit student contact through staggered class times.

Natasha Doherty, a mother-of-three from Dungannon in Co Tyrone, has asthma and has been shielding during lockdown.

She said that her children's schools have been "amazing" and have regularly checked in with her during lockdown, but remains concerned that her children could bring home the virus and cause her serious harm when they go back next month.

She told PA: "I would get ill quite a lot during the year without Covid so the thought of kids going to school straight back full-time definitely makes me very nervous."

She added: "I'm worried because I feel they have had since March to come up with a plan for a safe return but to be honest nothing seems to be different.

"My daughter will travel on a completely packed bus with kids from all different schools so the social bubble or social distancing won't exist. Also, they don't have to wear masks on the transport."

While the British government has described the risk of to children as "low", parents of at-risk pupils remain concerned for their children's health.

Head teachers have said there remain concerns about health and safety for children and staff.

Education minister Peter Weir has said all schools will reopen in full for the new term, with social distancing largely abandoned in favour of `bubbling'.

Mr Weir said a five-day-a-week return was what parents wanted and was "the best outcome for children".

However, teaching unions said the relaxation of social distancing requirements was a "cause of deep concern".

There are also fears about safety on home-to-school transport where children from different schools cannot be kept apart.

Grammar school Belfast Royal Academy has told parents that face masks will be compulsory for pupils and staff within school buildings.

Last week Education Minister Peter Weir said that face coverings in schools are not "necessary or implementable" at this stage.

Chief Scientific Advisor Professor Ian Young has told the minister that there may be "some benefit" to the use of face coverings among older children depending on the context.

Schools have been closed since March with most young people learning from home.

Pupils from P1 through to third year in secondary schools will return for the new team in bubbles. There will be efforts to minimise movements between classes for Years 11 to 14.

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