covid fears Principal who closed school after seven Covid-19 cases ordered to reopen
A school with seven cases of Covid-19 that closed without the go-ahead of public health officials is reopening today on the orders of the Department of Education.
Tarbert Comprehensive School in Co Kerry decided to shut yesterday after seven cases of the infection were confirmed in the past week among its 500-plus students.
Principal Richard Prendiville told parents that the decision to close was made "in the best interests of the entire school community".
However, the Department of Education contacted Mr Prendiville yesterday "and expressed a difference of opinion with me about the issue", he said in a letter to parents.
He said the department had "overruled" his decision and instructed him to reopen.
"Naturally, I have no choice but to comply," he wrote.
Mr Prendiville told parents that his "overriding rule of thumb throughout my career has been - what is the right thing to do - in very circumstance I deal with. This situation was no different."
He said he would continue, to the best of his ability, in consultation with the school's stakeholders, to manage and protect the health, safety and welfare of all individuals.
The department has a policy of not commenting on individual cases, but in response to a query stated: "In relation to Covid-19, the current advice to all school principals is to follow public health advice.
"This practice ensures that no principal is burdened with the responsibility of making a public health decision."
It also stated that it recognised the work and commitment of school principals across the country.
The case reflects the growing concern and strain felt by principals, teachers and other school staff in the face of the rising rate of Covid infection in the community, which is inevitably seeping into schools.
One key issue for education stakeholders is the speed of the public health response to cases affecting school communities.
Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) general secretary John Boyle yesterday described the tracking, testing and surveillance of Covid-19 in primary schools as "shambolic".
Former education minister Joe McHugh raised the issue in the Dáil last night.
Mr McHugh was contacted by three principals on Monday who had been notified about positive cases on Friday and had difficulty getting information over the weekend.
"There needs to be somebody at the end of the phone, somebody to help principals to work their way through the process," Mr McHugh said.
He acknowledged the commitments made yesterday by Education Minster Norma Foley, who said that testing and tracing resources for schools would be strengthened.
Ms Foley said the public health response to schools would be enhanced through the increased resourcing of dedicated School Teams in each HSE area to assist schools where a positive case was identified.
These teams are being led by public health professionals and will be supported by the Department of Education.
Education partners are seeking assurances for when schools reopen after the Halloween break. They were briefed yesterday by department officials and public health doctors.
Mr Boyle said department officials assured them of continued engagement.