Northern Ireland news

Peter Weir accused of ignoring education department guidance by attending P7 leavers' event indoors

Peter Weir attended the P7 leavers' service on Monday

PETER Weir has been accused of ignoring his own education department's guidance by attending a primary seven leavers' event indoors.

The Stormont minister was pictured on social media at a prize giving ceremony at St Mary's Primary School, Saintfield on Monday.

The photographs, which saw Mr Weir accompanied by teaching staff and pupils, were shared on the Department of Education twitter feed and the minister's own page.

While it appeared from the images that social distancing was observed and gloves were worn by those attending, Mr Weir has been criticised for flouting advice and guidance from the Education Authority in regard to school openings.

It states that schools should not arrange leavers' events which would breach coronavirus restrictions.

"Under current public health regulations, pupils should not be on school premises, unless a school is providing supervising learning centre for children of key workers and vulnerable children and the pupils attending fall into these categories," the EA guidance said.

"In respect of schools having celebrations for their P7 leavers, the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020, currently permit the meeting up of friends or family outdoors, up to a maximum of six people, who must maintain at least two metres distance and maintain hand and respiratory hygiene practices.

"Schools should not be arranging P7 leaver celebrations which would breach these regulations.

"EA's legal advice is that such gatherings of pupils and staff at this time would constitute a breach of legislation and public health guidance."

Mr Weir has been accused of sending out "very mixed messages" by attending the service.

One man wrote: "Unless your school is operating as a supervising learning centre, children should not be on the premises. ...Schools should not be arranging celebrations which would breach the regulations".

Another message posted said: "I thought only key worker children were allowed into school.

"A lot of schools have not facilitated a send off for P7s because of this guidance. Mixed messages from DE have been the norm throughout lockdown."

Another added: "Ignoring the advice and guidance from his own department in regard school openings, unnecessary, non essential travel and meetings and ignoring social distancing. An excellent example to all".

But the Department of Education defended Mr Weir's attendance at the prize-giving event.

"Awards were presented inside the school hall due to poor weather," a spokesperson said.

"Appropriate social distancing measures were in place at all times including the use of gloves and hand sanitizer.

"Pupils were brought in one at a time with their family to receive their award at an appropriate distance from those attending the event."

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