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Finally decided: Special schools will reopen from February 11

DUBLIN: Special schools across the country will be partially reopened from Thursday, February 11. Meanwhile, classes in mainstream schools for students with special needs will resume on Monday, February 22nd. Schools will operate under strict conditions in the wake of COVID-19.

The final decision on reopening the schools came after the Department of Education held talks with the Fórsa and INTO trade unions, which represent special needs assistants (SNAs).

The INTO and the Fórsa said in a statement that the special schools would be partially operational and that 50% of the children would be able to attend school on alternate days. The INTO said the public health authorities had issued clear instructions that a limited and partial re-opening under the terms agreed with the unions will not result in an increase in COVID-19 spread.

It is learned that the education department has decided to reopen the school after the two – week average COVID spread rate and virus reproduction rate dropped from mid – January.

At the same time, the guidelines of the INTO and the Fórsa regarding the arrangements to be made when schools are reopened will be distributed to schools from today. It also contains detailed information on the steps to be taken to resume school support for children with special needs.

In addition, the INTO said it had informed the Department of Education that management boards should be given adequate notice, guidance and time to contact the parents of children who need special education in the context of the gradual opening of schools. The INTO also demanded that additional facilities be made available to the children as part of the opening of the school.

It is learned that in addition to special schools, moves are afoot to open all schools across the country

“I am pleased that we are now in a position to give certainty to children with special education needs and their families on when they can return to school,” Minister for Education Norma Foley said.

“Learning remotely is particularly hard for these children and I am acutely conscious that the loss of the regular school routine, social interaction with friends, direct face to face access to teachers and special needs assistants as well as therapy interventions have presented a huge challenge and a real risk of regression to the learning, social, emotional development and well-being of these pupils,” she said.

Fórsa’s head of education, Andy Pike, said the union had taken steps to improve safety provision and re-build confidence in the safety of schools. He said that when special schools reopen, adequate additional facilities should be made available to teachers and SNAs. At the same time, he shared the hope that the necessary arrangements for the safety of students and staff could be made in a short period of time.

The partial opening of schools will make life difficult for many children and their families, said Angelina Hynes, chairwoman of the Galway Rosedale School Parent Association. Students will receive only a few working days prior to the mid-term break. Partial education can confuse children. She pointed out that special schools need 100% government attention instead of partial functioning and that part-time education is not adequate for those with severe or in-depth learning difficulties.

No decision was made regarding Leaving Cert

Although it has been decided to reopen special schools during the COVID spread, no decision has yet been made regarding the Leaving Cert exam. Meanwhile, the Cabinet Education Subcommittee will meet today to discuss matters relating to the extension of the Leaving Cert exam.

However, the assessment is that the plan to extend the Leaving Cert is unlikely to receive widespread support. Instead, ministers are of the opinion that students should be given two options regarding the Leaving Cert. The proposal is to either give students the opportunity to write the entire exam, or to implement an exam for some subjects and a calculated grading system for others.

Meanwhile, the final decision on the Leaving certificate is likely to be taken at next week’s cabinet meeting. At the same time, Minister Foley said she would like to make a full announcement clarifying the exams as soon as possible.

Teaching unions demand for Leaving Cert exam

The Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) has reiterated its support for conducting Leaving Cert examinations during the COVID spread. The union said in a statement that it did not believe the calculated grades or other system would reduce stress and anxiety in the school community.

At the same time, ASTI General Secretary Kieran Christie, said he was adamant in his decision to hold the exam and was moving forward as far as possible with the best option for a Leaving certificate. Mr. Christie also said that he does not think last year’s calculated grades process could operate properly this year.

Results were announced

The results of those who wrote the examination rejecting the calculated grade allowed over the last time were announced this morning. About half of them have now received higher grades, according to the Department of Education.

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