Northern Ireland news

Schools will need to stagger start times, urges union

Schools in the Republic will reopen in September

LARGE schools will need to stagger their opening times when pupils return after the summer, a union leader has said.

Guidance published by the Department of Education in the Republic says children from third class up must maintain a distance of one metre.

Teachers will also be required to maintain at least a one metre distance between themselves and young people.

The plan is to fully reopen schools by creating classroom bubbles, where children will have limited contact with other classes.

Schools will be required to have hand sanistiser stations, staggered drop-offs and parents will not be allowed inside buildings in most cases.

There will be dedicated isolation rooms for any pupil or staff member that diplays virus symptons.

Anyone with a fever or temperature will be instructed to avoid school.

The Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) met new Education Minister Norma Foley this week.

The union said it shared the frustration of schools that the guidance had not been published earlier.

General secretary John Boyle later told a Dáil committee it would not be safe to open large schools safely in September if crowds all turned up at the same time.

Mr Boyle, who was head of the large St Colmcille's junior national school in Knocklyon, said big schools faced more challenges.

"There were particular logistic difficulties at the school with 600 pupils, 150 teachers and God knows how many parents every morning. That is a case where there is going to have to be staggered opening, particularly initially," he said.

"It will not be safe to have a safe reopening of a school of that size on the first of September for all pupils, especially if all of those people turn up to the school gate at the same time. It will have to be different this year."

Mr Boyle told the committee it was "something of a national embarrassment" that Ireland had the "largest class sizes in the Eurozone".

"Many of our primary school classrooms have more than 30 pupils, with our European neighbours enjoying an average of just 20 in a class," he said.

"This really matters when we look at applying social distancing."

Meanwhile, Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland General Secretary Kieran Christie said there was "consternation" among members when a department report said a "differentiated approach to physical distancing in schools" could be considered.

"From our perspective, there simply cannot be rules on physical distancing that apply outside a school in wider society or business that don't apply inside a school," he said.

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