Make Schools Safe, Offer Educational Choices During Covid-19 Pandemic

Make Schools Safe, Offer Educational Choices During Covid-19 Pandemic

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Cathy Elena started this petition to Irish Government and

The current management of schools in Ireland during the Covid-19 Pandemic is placing the lives and health of students, teachers and their families at risk and, in turn, affecting the health and economy of whole communities. Schools are not being treated with the same level of safety as other industries and teachers are not being treated with the same respect as other professionals. In addition, while young people may not get seriously ill as often as older people, they are known to be able to transmit Covid-19, even if asympomatic and therefore to be able carry the disease home to their families. This petition asks the government to urgently address their strategy for safety in schools. Possible solutions are included below.

The standards of health and safety related to Covid-19 risk reduction differs significantly between the government's "Return to Work Safely Protocol" (referred to as (a) below) and the "Response for the safe and sustainable reopening of Post Primary Schools" (referred to as (b) below). For example:

(a) states: “The current recommended distance to be maintained between people to minimise risk of transmission is 2 metres.” while (b) states: "where possible staff should maintain a minimum of 1 m distance and where possible 2m". In reality, because of space constraints, schools are only able to accommodate a 1m distance between students and between teachers and students.

(a) states "organise workers into teams who consistently work and take breaks together. The teams should be as small as is reasonably practicable in the context of the work to be done", while in secondary schools, students are placed in classes of up to 30 and these classes change frequently based on subject choice and students then socialise with their friends during breaks. Schools can be large, up to 1000 pupils with little possibility to separate these groups. Start and finish times, lunch times and breaks cannot be staggered due to the nature of the school timetable and demand on teachers' times.

In addition, from Level 2 onwards, all workers are encouraged to work from home where possible and required to work from home from Level 3 onwards, however, families who choose to continue their children's education at home are vilified and bullied by the government, media and school bodies.

Other issues that arise include young people's limited adherence to mask regulations, student behaviour that prevents distances (playing close to each other, rough-housing or hugging), colder and wet weather prohibiting appropriate ventilation in the classrooms, etc.

This petition offers the following suggestions, all aimed at reducing the numbers of students in the classrooms, thereby reducing the risk to students, teachers and their wider communities:

1. Offer choices to families - those who can educate their children at home should do so with the ongoing support of their schools. Those who can take advantage of the strategies outlined below should be allowed to.

2. Offer part-time opportunities - students attend school 2-3 days per week and are given work (or able to access online tuition) for the remainder of the week. This strategy will halve the number of students in the classroom and make a significant difference to social distancing in the schools, while still ensuring students have direct contact with their teachers and their learning is supported.

3. Invest in technology to provide microphones and, where possible, cameras in the classroom to allow students to access online lessons if they are not in the classroom.

4. Create an online portal of live or pre-recorded lessons in all subject areas for all years for families to access from home. These could include downloadable "homework" that can be checked by the child's school to ensure learning is taking place.

4. Ensure students who are learning from home are not marked as "absent" once evidence is provided to the school that appropriate learning is taking place at home.

5. Provide support for children with additional learning needs to be in school full-time if they are not able to successfully learn from home. This provision needs to ensure that students are able to attend school safely, ensuring a minimum of 2m between students.

6. Likewise, provide provisions for children of essential workers or those who are unable to work from home to attend school full-time in a safe environment ensuring a minimum of 2m distance between students.

7. Provide mental health support services to students who are either suffering from anxiety related to the Covid-19 pandemic or required to isolate/quarantine.

It is essential that the government take immediate action to reduce the number of students in schools and ensure students and teachers are treated with the same safety standards as other industries. This petition highlights the essential need of same and the will of the people to ensure our students, teachers and the wider communities are kept safe during this pandemic. Every student that is supported to learn part-time or from home will reduce the numbers of students in classrooms, improve social distancing and reduce the risk to students, teachers and their families.

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At 1,000 signatures, this petition is more likely to be featured in recommendations!