schools to reopen | 

No plans on extension to Christmas break despite outbreaks in schools

HPSC figures show that 7,359 five to 12-year-olds tested positive for Covid-19 last week. Stock image

Eavan Murray

The Department of Education says there are no plans to lengthen the Christmas holidays, and schools will reopen as scheduled in January, despite Covid infection rates among children.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education said: “The scheduling of the school holiday periods during the academic years is agreed between the managerial authorities of schools, the teacher unions and the Department for the purposes of standardising breaks at Christmas, Easter and mid-term.

“This is important to ensure certainty for the school community about the dates of school holidays.

“There are no plans to alter the school break at Christmas.”

However, the chief executive of Parentline, Aileen Hickie, told the Irish Independent their helpline has been flooded with calls from concerned parents of school-going children.

“We have taken a colossal amount of calls. The overriding concern and priority for parents is keeping the schools open and ensuring they reopen after Christmas.

“But the cases of infection are soaring and the fear out there is very real.

“Parents remember last year when there were lots of promises made that schools would reopen no matter what.

“But suddenly after the spike at Christmas, that was turned on its head, ” Ms Hickie said.

“You only have to look at the case numbers in primary school-age children to see why people are panicking.

“We keep being told schools are safe but parents are scared.”

Figures from the HSE’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) show an alarming 21.1pc weekly increase in the incidence of Covid-19 among the five to 12 age cohort.

The primary school age cohort now has the highest rate of Covid-19 infection of all age groups.

However, of 139 outbreaks recorded in the same period, only 12 were reported in primary schools which abandoned contact tracing in September.

The figures show 15 outbreaks were linked to special schools and just one to a post-primary school.

Separate figures published by the HPSC on Wednesday show that 7,359 five to 12-year-olds tested positive for Covid-19 last week.

On Wednesday, the Danish government announced it was shutting schools early for the Christmas break to counter a surge of Covid-19 cases in the country.

A spokesperson for the INTO teachers union said they “continue to call for the reinstatement of public health risk assessments, contact tracing and PCR testing for schools, alongside ventilation and urgent planning for the spring term after the Christmas break”.

Separately, Further and Higher Education Minister Simon Harris confirmed that students in private third-level colleges will get free Covid antigen tests.

Students at the colleges, including Griffith, DBS and St Nicholas Montessori, represent about 12pc of the third-level population.

Earlier this week Mr Harris announced a €9m fund for the free rapid tests for students in publicly-funded higher education institutions.

The Higher Education Colleges Association (HECA) criticised the exclusion of private colleges from that announcement.

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