No COVID schools plan for 2022 new term ‘a missed opportunity’ says Derry MLA

Derry Sinn Féin MLA Pádraig Delargy has called on the NI Education Minister to urgently revisit the approach to managing COVID in schools.

The Foyle MLA said: “The new school term is almost upon us and the Education Minister has failed to produce a plan to make our classrooms safer.

“Principals have been open and honest in recent weeks as they describe the deterioration of the situation in many of our schools.”

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Mr Delargey claimed there had been a “lack of appropriate guidance, a lack of adequate safety mitigations, a soft touch contact tracing policy, and a lack of available substitute teachers” which he said “have put many of our schools in difficult positions with many having to resort to partial closures”.

Sinn Fein Foyle MLA Padraig Delargy.

“The Omicron variant may also present new challenges, so I am urging the Minister to revisit her approach to COVID in schools.”

He added: “We put these concerns directly to the Minister in the weeks before Christmas and called on her to produce a comprehensive plan which puts HEPA filters in all classrooms, which sets out a contact tracing policy teachers and families can have confidence in and to speed up the redeployment of qualified teachers from non-pupil facing positions back into the classroom.

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“The Minister keeps telling us she wants to keep schools open. We agree, but it would appear she has squandered the opportunity over the Christmas break to develop a plan.

“We will continue to make the case to the Minister for a new approach to COVID in our schools.”

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No new specific measures or instructions for schools were made public following the most recent NI Executive meeting on Thursday of last week.

However Education Minister Michelle McIlveen has since expressed her gratitude for the “dedication shown by teachers and staff throughout another challenging year”.

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The Minister also paid tribute to those who have been acknowledged as having gone above and beyond to provide education for our children and young people in the NY Honours List.

Michelle McIlveen said: “2021 was another very challenging year for our children and young people as well as for our school leaders, teachers and education workforce and I pay tribute to the unstinting determination and dedication of all of them and especially those honoured today.

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“I thank you for your continued resilience during these unprecedented circumstances by keeping our schools safe and delivering quality education to our children and young people.

“I am extremely grateful for all your efforts and you can be proud of these richly deserved awards.”