Principals objecting to Government's handling of schools refuse to pass on letter from minister to parents

Principals objecting to the Government’s handling of the reopening of schools since the Christmas break have refused to send a letter to ...

Principals objecting to the Government’s handling of the reopening of schools since the Christmas break have refused to send a letter to parents on behalf of Education Minister Norma Foley.

he letter has been branded “unfair” by some teachers and principals, who feel it blames them for schools not reopening last week after the Christmas holidays following a standoff over increasing Covid-19 cases and safety concerns.

While some principals have provided parents with parts of the letter that offer advice and guidance on remote learning, others voiced objections to part of the correspondence dealing with the Government’s U-turn on bringing students with special educational needs and Leaving Cert groups back to classrooms on January 11.

Most schools, at primary and second level, have complied with the request to issue parents with the letter.

Two principals told the Sunday Independent they were concerned about messaging in the letter. Union sources and other teachers said they are aware of other cases where principals did not forward the letter to parents or guardians of pupils.

In the letter, issued to schools last Tuesday, Ms Foley addressed the initial decision to bring some students back to the classroom last week.

“The government decision included provision that in-person learning would be maintained for two specific cohorts from Monday 11, students attending special schools and classes and final year Leaving Certificate students. Despite the confirmation by public health that schools remain safe, unfortunately it has not proved possible to get agreement to provide in-person learning for these two groups,” she wrote.

“In these circumstances, there is no alternative but to pause the limited reopening and continue engagement with partners. I will keep parents of these students updated on this engagement.

“The latest advice clearly outlines that schools are safe environments, and that the protective measures and the considerable supports put in place to support schools have been successful.”

One principal said they were concerned this part of the letter could be interpreted by parents as the minister blaming principals for schools not reopening. Another principal said the overall tone of the letter was of concern.

“I just don’t think it is right, at this point, for us to be handing letters to parents on behalf of the minister,” he said.

The letter has also been made available to parents online.

It comes as families of children with special needs said they were “deeply upset” about the confusion surrounding the partial reopening of schools on Thursday.

Guidelines for the plan were sent to schools on Friday night, enforcing an understanding that the resumption of classes was imminent.

Afterwards, Fórsa, which represents SNAs, said there were a number of issues that remained unresolved around health and safety and childcare arrangements for its members.

However, it is still thought reopening on Thursday is possible, with further talks set to take place tomorrow and Tuesday to address outstanding concerns.

A spokesman for the minister said it is still a shared aim to reopen schools on Thursday for special education.

INTO general secretary John Boyle said the union is awaiting updated health advice from public health officials tomorrow after highlighting specific queries with the Department of Education.

“Having finally been recognised by the Government as essential workers, special education staff who have children are entitled to access childcare,” he said.

“However, additional support on the provision of childcare facilities for our members is needed.”

Yesterday, AsIAm, Down Syndrome Ireland, Family Carers Ireland and Inclusion Ireland said they were upset by a lack of clarity on the issue.

“Children with additional needs, and their parents, went to bed last night confident that the week ahead would see a much-needed return to the classroom and woke up this morning to mixed messages and deep confusion,” they said in a joint statement calling for classes to resume on Thursday.

“At a time when families are struggling to cope with supporting their children on a 24/7 basis, often whilst juggling work and other care commitments, it is totally unacceptable for stakeholders to get their hopes up or to give mixed messages.”

The ongoing closure of schools will feature in talks planned for the staging of the Leaving Cert, which are scheduled to take place once the issue around the reopening of special education is addressed.

A government source said there is no doubt about it being possible to hold exams in June, but consideration will have to be given to the amount of classroom time students have lost.

“With the restrictions in place and the roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccine, I think everyone is confident that empty schools can hold exams in June,” they said.

“The problem isn’t that but more that time is a factor now. Timing is key.

“The more time children spend out of the classroom, the more difficult it is to examine them.”

Sunday Independent

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Newsrust: Principals objecting to Government's handling of schools refuse to pass on letter from minister to parents
Principals objecting to Government's handling of schools refuse to pass on letter from minister to parents
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