School children in Clare are adjusting to an alternative way of learning as the new academic term begins in first and second level settings right across the country.

Different approaches are being adapted by schools in the county where teachers will wear face coverings or shields while personal protective equipment (PPE) is also be worn. The manner in which schools will operate will be in stark contrast to six months ago when their sudden closure was announced.

One-way systems of movement will be utilised in some settings with signage erected on doors and walls all over schools to remind students and staff on the need to continuously practice good respiratory etiquette on coughing and sneezing.

Children starting off their time in primary school have already had their first day in school while for others this momentous occasion will arrive in the coming days.

There will be no homework given in schools for the month of September at least. Principals in Clare have confirmed to The Clare Echo that they will be following this advice with others issuing a note of caution that “outlier schools” may breach the recommendations.

A potential risk of spreading COVID-19 by bringing books from the home to school and back has been indicated as the reason for the decision that is expected to remain in place for the first term of the academic year. Classrooms are to be sanitised at the end of each school day.

Parents have been urged not to let any child with a temperature or a cough go to school when they return later this week. Speaking this week, Acting Chief Medical Officer, Dr Ronan Glynn acknowledged that people were “concerned” and “anxious”. He said “it won’t be a surprise” if cases arise in school-aged children but that the challenge will be the response. “The vast majority of children who get COVID have very mild if any symptoms,” he cautioned.

He referenced evidence from the ECDC and international experience to date which “suggests that children do not commonly transmit COVID-19 to other children or adults in school settings. Internationally, where schools have been reopened, schools have not been a significant driver of community transmission”.

Vigilance is required from parents when it comes to symptoms, Dr. Mary Favier, President of the Irish College of General Practitioners stressed and she listed fever, cough, shortness of breath, flu like symptoms, loss of taste or smell as particular examples. “Parents should also remain aware of asymptomatic transmission – like some adults, children may not present symptoms but can still carry the virus. If you have vulnerable people in your limited network, ensure physical distancing is adhered to and encourage regular hand washing habits with your child.”

€376m in funding has been set aside by the Government to facilitate the reopening. An unspecified amount has been allocated for a hand sanitiser and PPE grant.

The package has been split into multiple sectors including minor capital grant (€75m), replacing teachers deemed a high risk to COVID-19 (€70m), additional teaching and guidance posts in post-primary schools (€53m), school cleaning grant (€52.2m), replacing teachers for absences not covered by the existing substitute scheme (€41.2m), post-primary supervision (€40m), replacing non-teaching staff such as SNAs vulnerable to the virus (€14.7m), school transport (€11.3m), release days for teaching principals in primary schools (€10.2m), return to school grant (€4.2m), release time for lead worker representative (€3.8m), additional educational psychologists (€1.25m).

Trust is needed in schools as they reopen, Cathal Crowe TD (FF) told The Clare Echo. “Most principals and caretakers have been in their schools for most of August putting up signage, fixing hand sanitizers to walls and preparing bespoke Covid plans for their own school setting. The Department of Education has given detailed guidance to all schools but it’s almost certain that we will hear of coronavirus outbreaks in Irish schools in the coming weeks.

“When a school has a confirmed case, a call will have to be made in terms of contract tracing and if the entire building needs to be shut down. This of course adds a degree of uncertainty to the school year ahead but it’s indicative of the times we live in,” he stated. A primary school teacher up until February, Cathal this week handed back the keys to Parteen NS where he taught for 13 years, he will return there on Monday alongside his wife Maeve as their eldest son Sam begins primary school.

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