Concern over students and staff with underlying health conditions

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AS thousands of Limerick students return to schools and colleges, the Department of Education has been strongly criticised over its lack of consideration for students and staff with underlying health conditions.

Limerick Sinn Féin TD Maurice Quinlivan says that the roadmap for the reopening of schools, and the guidance issued since then, offers very little on how children who cannot attend school because of underlying conditions are to be supported in their education.

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“There is no mention at all in the roadmap of parents who are at high-risk.

“While small in percentage terms, in real terms many children will see their lives profoundly affected, and they are just as much entitled to a decent education as anyone else.

“There is very little guidance on how they will be supported and it appears that much of the responsibility will fall on special education teachers. These teachers will be pulled from pillar to post as it stands under the government’s plans and will be very stretched in attempting to provide education remotely on top of their existing duties,” he predicts.

The Limerick politician now wants to see a dedicated strategy to ensure education can continue to a decent standard.

He told the Limerick Post that his constituency office has been contacted by both parents and school staff in relation to this and he is calling for clarity from the Minister of Education.

“This should have been made available weeks ago as many Limerick schools are due to return on Wednesday and Thursday of this week.

“I know that there are parents who want to keep their at-risk children safe, but are worried that they will lose out educationally if they keep them at home. I am also aware that many teachers and staff are deeply concerned that if they are at high-risk, but not at very high-risk, that they must attend.”

He said that trade unions, including the ASTI, have given several examples, including one teacher with acute leukaemia, diabetes, asthma, anaemia and an auto-immune disorder who has been told to return to work after getting a risk assessment. Other examples include teachers with heart failure, chronic kidney disease, liver disease, cancer, weak immune systems and obesity.

“School staff deserve to be safe, and children, at home or otherwise deserve a decent education. It seems likely that there is scope to resolve these issues concurrently, but currently such choices are not on the table,” Deputy Quinlivan claimed.

Meanwhile, Bishop of Limerick Brendan Leahy has urged all to be supportive and patient with the key task of getting schools up and running – a task he described as both wonderful and challenging for all involved.

Speaking ahead of the reopening of schools, Bishop Leahy spoke of the importance of schools to our communities and paid tribute to all involved in the process, not least principals for their leadership during the summer months.

Ultimately, he said, that we must stick with the guidelines handed down by the HSE.

“While there is a natural quiver of nervousness around what lies ahead, we should all strive to create an atmosphere of mutual support. That will mean an extra supplement of patience, understanding and forbearance. It will be a challenging time, so we need to be patient and we need to encourage,” Bishop Leahy commented.

“The school re-opening calls on all of us to do our part by encouraging all concerned. It is good for the children and young people to be resuming a structure that facilitates their personal growth. It is important that we promote all the advice given by the health authorities, especially about hand-washing and social distancing.

“As schools re-open, I want to assure the pupils, teachers and staff of my prayers and the prayers of the Diocese of Limerick. We appreciate this is both a wonderful time and a challenging time for all concerned.”