Catholic Principals’ Association calls on Education Minister to close schools

Catholic Principals’ Association calls on Education Minister to close schools

18 March 2020

AT least three schools in the district have confirmed they pupils who may have been exposed to coronavirus.

The closure of all schools appears likely within days as pressure mounts on Education Minister Peter Weir to follow the example of the Irish government and close all schools and colleges.

Mr Weir ruled out full-out closure on Monday, but yesterday the Catholic Principals’ Association, called for an immediate closure of all schools.

First Minister Arlene Foster indicated that the closure could last for up to four months.

All school principals and teachers have been working hard to protect pupils this week in the face of the coronavirus threat.

Any planned parent teacher evenings have been cancelled and many schools are restricting access into the school apart from staff and students.

Many schools have taken exceptional closure days on Monday and from tomorrow to Friday to allow teachers time to prepare lesson packs for students as well as preparing for online lesson sessions in the anticipation of closure.

These include De La Salle High School and St Brigid’s Primary School in Downpatrick. St Mary’s High School in the town is closed today only for an exceptional closure.

Some schools are working to continue lessons for Year 12-14 students to prepare them for their forthcoming examinations but have asked that all other children are kept at home.

Despite the current government advice to keep schools open, attendance is likely to be down from Wednesday onwards as worried parents keep children at home for their protection or other more vulnerable family members.

Principal of St Patrick’s Primary School in Saul, Mr Mark McGrath, said: “We are open again on Wednesday but we fully respect parents’ right to do what is best for their own family situation.”

Down High School is closed today for a school development day but is open tomorrow and Friday for Years 12-14 only. The school has cancelled a planned ski trip to Austria as well as a senior rugby tour to Seattle in the US

St Patrick’s Grammar School in Downpatrick is also operating a similar arrangement and have asked pupils not to attend school this week.

However, the school’s principal, Mr Joe McCann, has said that pupils facing exams, who need to leave in work or collect work from teachers, can come into school between 9am and 11am each day.

Mr McCann also informed parents that its cleaning provider spent all of Monday cleaning the school in preparation for any pupils coming in today. 

The main impact of the coronavirus on most schools has been the cancellation of planned school trips and any after-school activities.

Assumption Grammar School in Ballynahinch was forced to cancel three school trips which were due to start last Saturday.

One of the trips was a ski holiday to Folgaria in northern Italy, the worst affected area of the country.

Over 60 of the school’s best Irish dancers, singers and musicians were to take in New York’s St Patrick’s Day parade and a concert.  A ten-day trip to South Africa has also been cancelled by the school.

Mr Peter Dobbin, principal, told parents that the school’s primary duty of care was to “the health and safety and to the wellbeing of each and every student and member of staff.

“These are unprecedented times and we are navigating unchartered waters, so please bear with us as we try to ensure that we maintain learning and teaching at this time,” said Mr Dobbin.

He said that he and his staff were also preparing for “an inevitable school closure in due course” and would ensure that no external visitors, including parents, would be allowed past the entrance foyer, unless it was under “exceptional circumstances”.

He revealed that the school had implemented “enhanced cleaning procedures” since the beginning of the month.

The school has also cancelled all extra-curricular activities and postponed the Year 9 and Year 11 parent teacher meetings, scheduled for next Tuesday.

Mr Kevin Lambe, principal of Shimna Integrated College, Newcastle, confirmed on Monday that the school’s sky trip to Austria had been cancelled. 

Outlining his school’s response to the current coronavirus threat level, Mr Lambe said that additional cleaning protocols were in place and that all evening activities involving community groups had been cancelled until further notice.

He added: “Our current priority is to put in place arrangements to support students’ continued learning and revision should schools close”.