Home schooling ‘not a viable option’ as Omicron variant threatens possible school closures

The Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Youth has said working from home is not a viable option for pupils.

oulla Yiasouma said she has yet to see “action” on her calls to implement urgent decision-making and resource allocation directly to schools.

It comes as the Department of Education (DE) continues to face pressure to put more measures in place to protect students and staff from the Covid-19 Omicron variant.

A spokesperson for DE previously said education officials are still evaluating the measures needed in classrooms to improve ventilation.

“About 95% of schools have now been fitted with CO2 monitors at a cost of £ 1.1million with the rest of the schools being fitted with monitors as a priority,” the spokesperson said.

Many schools are expected to reopen tomorrow after the Christmas holidays despite the alarming increase in positive cases.

Ms. Yiasouma said many principals believe there is “insufficient support” to keep schools open on a sustainable basis, while young people have expressed concerns about the impact further closures will have.

“Schools cannot stay open if there are unsafe staffing levels or if there is an increased risk of covid infection,” she continued. “All necessary measures must be taken to meet these two challenges.

“I have looked at the appeals from principals and unions and I think they are reasonable.

“I therefore reiterate my call on the Department of Education and the NI executive to make swift decisions on the allocation of the necessary resources to ensure that schools have adequate air filtration systems, flow tests for students and that there are creative decisions regarding the deployment of qualified personnel to educate our children.

Ms. Yiasouma added that while it is too early to talk about the cancellation of external exams, it is time to “consider new mitigating measures” for young people who have experienced pressures and disruptions in their education. due to the pandemic.

“My ‘New and Better Normal’ report assessed the impact of the government’s response to the pandemic on the lives of children and young people across Northern Ireland,” she said.

“In too many areas, education has been judged insufficient. We must learn the lessons and minimize disruption to education by any means necessary.

“I applaud the priority given by the NI executive to keeping schools open.

“If further restrictions are being considered, I strongly recommend that the rights of children and youth come to the fore at the decision-making table. “

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