School management

School management boards that administer public health policy ‘will be protected by law,’ says Taoiseach amid debate over school masks

The Taoiseach insisted that wearing masks in primary schools would work within a short period of time.

questioned in Dáil on the issue by Labor leader Alan Kelly, Micheál Martin said everyone needed to be flexible in the first phase of a new school system because the overall goal was to protect health public.

Mr Kelly said school principals were vulnerable to legal action if they prohibited children from wearing school masks.

He said a notice regarding electronically issued masks to schools was not on official letterhead and was unsigned.

The Labor leader said children were required by law to go to school and being excluded from wearing masks could impact attendance records and trigger a challenge in the High Court.

“Are you going to defend a school principal in such cases?” asked Mr. Kelly.

Le Taoiseach said the mask-wearing principle has worked well at the post-primary level and will work well over time in primary schools. “Teachers, principals and school management boards that administer public health policy will be protected by law,” Martin told Dáil.

Meanwhile, the government has been accused of “soulless” communication with schools over the new mask-wearing rules in a Dáil exchange.

Labor TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin described the government as a ‘committee of bad debs’ after sending a ‘dictate’ to schools last night on the obligation for third-class pupils and up to wearing masks from today.

He said the education ministry notice to schools was “delivered with all the subtlety and compassion of a gas bill.”

“This morning, principals are to monitor the wearing of masks for children nine years old, third class and up, with no sense of the legal implications if the parent refuses.”

He added that there was an “absolute lack of comment or leadership” from Education Minister Norma Foley and stressed that last night there was a need for a “video message or of a communication from the political leader of education in “Ireland”

“We had classic, soulless communication followed by communication from Nphet to each individual school,” he told Dáil.

“You have been described as a government as a committee of bad debs. This is the best description I can give this morning.

He said there was “no leadership at all” from the minister last night

Minister Foley said the new mask-wearing recommendations are “public health measures” guided by “public health.”

“This is the strong recommendation from CMO and NPHET that this is an additional tool for our schools. The decision was made yesterday, but schools were given leeway over the next few days to engage with parents and students on wearing face masks.

“I confirm that this approach to well-being is typical of the approach that we have adopted since the reopening of the schools,” she said.

Minister Foley said public health teams would support “epidemics of concern” in schools.

She said the government was “very clear in the guidelines” and said she knew the schools because she had “spent the vast majority of my working life in schools”

“Don’t give us that line. We have all worked in schools, ”said MP Ó Ríordáin.

“I am aware that schools take a flexible approach. We have advised them to adopt such an approach over the next few days, ”she said.

Labor TD said schools had been told masks would be a “requirement” and “it is not flexibility.”

“Demagoguery on a public health issue is useless,” said the minister.

“For God’s sake. If I hear this accusation once again,” MP Ó Ríordáin said in the heated exchange.

He also asked why the government and public health have reaffirmed that “schools are safe” repeatedly during the pandemic, she said schools are safe environments.

“The field experience of public health physicians has been and remains that schools are relatively low risk environments in terms of transmission and have not been a driver of transmission among children during the pandemic”, said the minister.