Schools up to the challenge of reopening on time

by Gazette Reporter
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SCHOOLS across Dublin are on track to start reopening next week, despite the imposition of new public health restrictions amid a spike in Covid-19 cases.

While businesses are being asked to allow staff work from home until September 13, getting almost one million pupils back to the classroom is now a national priority.

Teachers return to the workplace next week – but many have been working furiously behind the scenes putting protocols in place to safeguard staff and students.

Like every school principal Rachel Harper of St Patrick’s NS, Greystones is finding the preparation for re-opening on September 1 a major challenge.

Reassuring the parents and 280 pupils is a key priority and all parents will receive a comprehensive Covid school plan before term commences next month.

“Parents will be supplied with a map of the school identifying all hand sanitiser stations and guidelines for children and parents,” Rachel told Dublin Gazette.

“I’m sending out a personal video of myself doing a tour around the school, starting at the gate and onto the classrooms, giving each child a look at what they are returning to, and a chance for parents to view and discuss this with their children.

“It’s so difficult for the new junior infants so we are giving them individual time slots with their parents the day before they start ‘big school’. 

“Student arrivals start at 8.20am with classes to commence at 8.45am. Classes must be kept separate from each other, during school arrival, departure and play times, and toilet breaks and so on.

“Junior infants will have to stay in their own class bubble, a ‘pod’ all day, including play time.

“Each pod will have six chairs and a table with masking tape indicating the children’s pod space. Stationery, pens, crayons, will be shared by those six children only, within their pod.”

Ms Harper added: “Teachers will no longer be able to correct homework/work books. After a weekend, the work books having been left for 72 hours on the premises, may then be corrected by a teacher.

“Home work can be photographed and uploaded and forwarded to the teacher or we may use online programmes such as ‘Seesaw’.”

Every school is required to have a Covid isolation room in case children are showing symptoms.

Rachel revealed: “The library has had to be deployed as a second staff room in order to segregate staff; all historical ‘clutter’, artwork, display aids, etc had to be dumped with two skips filled earlier this week.  

“‘Daily Dunk’ bins have been set up with all learning aids used to be disinfected and on a daily basis.”

With government guidelines requesting that windows are to be left open, St Patrick’s are trying to source ionisers (air filters), another huge expense on the school budget.

Rachel said: “We’ve asked children to bring in additional clothing such as a jacket or jumper; in winter, they may be wearing coats during class – it really is all going to be challenging. Everybody has to do their part.”

Schools in Skerries in north Dublin have agreed a ‘no homework’ policy to ease children back into the routine and soften the blow of a Covid classroom.

The National Parents Council Post Primary Ireland has called for more information around issues such as uniforms and books.

Its president Mai Fanning said many parents don’t know what they are “going to be walking into” when schools return – with some better at communicating with parents than others.

Marie Therese Kilmartin, principal of Colaiste Bride in Clondalkin, said physical distancing, movement breaks for pupils and staff and well-ventilated classrooms are “vital”.

She said her school is considering whether to allow students to use their lockers, as the “high-touch” surfaces will have to be wiped down each time they are used.

Ms Kilmartin said the school will re-educate students on good hand hygiene and other guidelines, urging parents to support teachers in ensuring young people “come back to becoming aware of their physical distance with others”.

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