School and COVID-19

Introduction

Schools reopened at the start of the new school year - end of August 2020.

Keeping schools and early childhood care and education services open during the COVID-19 emergency is a Government priority in line with public health advice. You can read more about the Government’s plan for living with COVID-19.

Your child should not attend school if they are displaying any symptoms of COVID-19.

Students at school must keep their physical distance from one another outside of the classroom and work within the classroom in designated groupings or ‘bubbles’.

Schools have introduced:

Blended learning which mixes learning at school and online-learning at home forms part of the school programme so that schools can respond quickly if public health circumstances change.

Classrooms, PE halls and other spaces can be arranged by schools to maximise school spaces for safe learning.

Schools can manage and redistribute their teaching support resources in order to best meet the learning needs of students with complex medical needs who may not be able to return to school because public health guidelines indicate they are at “very high risk”.

The National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) has developed webinars and wellbeing toolkits for primary and post-primary schools to support the school community in the return to school.

You can find out more about going back to school and the reopening of primary schools and special schools and post-primary schools.

Staying safe at school

Guidance and supports for schools is contained in the Department of Education and Skill’s Reopening our schools: The roadmap for the full return to school.

The roadmap contains detailed guidance and supports covering:

  • School drop off and collection
  • Hand washing and hygiene
  • Face coverings
  • Maintaining physical distancing
  • Classrooms, bubbles and pods
  • Play and break times

School drop off and collection

  • Many schools will have staggered drop off and pick up times. Students should not gather when they arrive but go straight to their small designated group or classroom
  • Parents and staff should maintain a distance of 2 metres. Walking and cycling to school is encouraged.

Hand washing and hygiene at school

Staff and students should maintain hand hygiene throughout the school day.

Liquid soap and water will be provided in school. Hand sanitiser can be used, however, young children should not have independent use of alcohol gel containers.

Students and staff should wash hands:

  • On arrival at school
  • Before eating or drinking
  • After using the toilet
  • After playing outdoors
  • When their hands are physically dirty
  • When they cough or sneeze
  • Moving between classes for post-primary students

Read more on control measures to reopening schools safely on gov.ie.

Face coverings

Children under 13 years are not required to wear face coverings.

Teachers and secondary school students must wear face coverings, when a physical distance of 2 metres cannot be maintained.

All Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) must wear face coverings, or in certain situations clear visors in the class room.

Maintaining physical distancing at school

Primary and special schools

Schools will reconfigure spaces to maximise physical distancing. The classroom will be clear of unnecessary furniture, shelves and material on the walls. The following physical distancing measures should be followed:

  • 1 metre distance should be maintained between desks or between individual students
  • The teacher’s desk should be at least 1 metre (where possible 2 metres) away from a student’s desk
  • Teachers should avoid close contact at face to face level with students
  • Teachers should maintain a 2 metre distance in staff rooms and staff groups and should wear a face covering where they cannot maintain distance
  • Where possible desks should consistently be used by the same staff and children.

The roadmap recognises that younger children are unlikely to maintain physical distancing indoors.

Post-primary

At post-primary schools, schools can take a common sense approach to decreasing the contact between students. The following physical distancing measures should be followed:

  • Students and teachers should limit their interaction when moving between class, in hallways and other shared areas
  • Student’s desks should be 2 metre distance apart but at least 1 metre distance from individual students or staff
  • Teachers should maintain a 2 metre distance in staff rooms and staff

Classrooms, bubbles and pods

Primary school and special schools

Students may be grouped into class ‘bubbles’ and ‘pods’. A ‘bubble’ is a class grouping which stays apart from other classes as much as possible. Your child may be in smaller group or ‘pod’ within the class bubble. Pods and bubbles help limit close contact and sharing of common facilities between students in different pods and bubbles.

While your child is in a class grouping or bubble they will mix only with their own class from arrival at school in the morning until they leave at the end of the school day.

There should be at least 1 metre distance between individual pods within the class bubble and between individuals in the pod, whenever possible.

Students and teachers should be consistently in the same class bubble although this will not be possible at all times.

Each class bubble should have separate breaks and meal times or separate areas at break or meal times.

Post primary schools

In addition to reconfiguring class spaces and maximising physical distancing, schools may:

  • Review timetables
  • Reconfigure classes
  • Consider use of live streaming within the school
  • Use available spaces within the local community

Students should be assigned to a main class cohort, where possible. They will remain in the classroom for most subjects, with teachers moving between rooms. Classes will be planned to minimise movement during the day.

If your child has an elective subject they should move quickly to the new class and sit with members of their class cohort, while maintaining physical distance.

All students and staff should avoid sharing educational material or personal items such as pens, pencil cases and notebooks. Contact areas of devices such as keyboards or tablets should be cleaned regularly.

Staff and students should limit meeting in hallways and shared areas. Hand to hand greetings and hugs should be discouraged. Where students need to move within the classroom to perform activities or share a resource it should be organised to minimise students meeting at the same time.

Play and break times

Primary schools and special schools, should have staggered breaks and adjust playtime to:

  • Reduce crowding at the entrances and exits
  • Keep students in consistent groups when they play together, where it is not possible to maintain physical distancing
  • Minimise sharing of equipment

Post-primary schools who operate a canteen should:

  • Make sure physical distancing is applied
  • Stagger canteen use and extend serving times to align with class groupings (where possible)
  • Implement a queue management system

If your child becomes unwell at school

If your child becomes unwell at school:

  • You will be contacted immediately
  • Your child will be accompanied by a staff member to an isolation area away from other staff and students while maintaining at least 2 metres distance
  • If the isolation area is not a separate room your child will be kept 2 metres away from others in the room
  • If it is not possible to maintain 2 metre distance, the staff member caring for your child will wear a face covering. Your child should avoid touching people or surfaces and use a tissue when they cough or sneeze
  • Your child will be given a face covering to wear if they are in a common area with other people or while exiting the building
  • Your child will be assessed to see whether they can immediately go home or be brought home by you. Public transport should not be used.
  • If your child is well enough to go home, the school will arrange for them to be taken home by a family member and you will be asked to call your doctor.
  • If your child is too unwell to go home, school staff will contact 999 or 112 and tell them that your child is suspected of having COVID-19

Staff and students must follow the protocol for managing a suspected case of COVID-19 in school.

When to keep your child home from school

You should not send your child to school if they have:

  • Symptoms of COVID-19
  • Been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19
  • Been living with someone who is unwell and may have COVID-19
  • An existing breathing condition that has recently got worse
  • Other symptoms such as sore throat, headaches or diarrhoea
  • Returned from another country in the last 14 days

You can read more about when to keep your child from school and what to do if your child has symptoms on the HSE website.

Read more about how to restrict your movements and self-isolate.

Curriculum for 2020-2021 school year

The curriculum for the 2020-2021 school year at all school levels will take account of the:

  • Learning experiences of students during the school closure
  • Likely gaps in learning
  • Practical context in which teaching and learning will take place in the new school year

The Department has prepared curriculum guidance for primary and post-primary schools.

Primary schools

The focus will be on managing the transition period of returning to school from home at the start of the school year. Schools will need to reprioritise certain areas of the curriculum and give greater time and attention to areas such as Social, Personal and Health Education, Physical Education, Language and Mathematics especially during the initial weeks of the first term. Teachers will form a picture of where your child is in their learning they will work towards more typical curriculum plans.

Post-primary schools

Schools can decide how to sequence and pace learning for students as they return to school.

The Government has announced adjustments to certificate examinations in 2021. The changes are set out in the Department of Education’s Assessment Arrangements for Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate Examinations 2021 and Returning to School Transition Year 2020/21

You can read more about changes to the Junior Cycle, Leaving Certificate, Leaving Certificate Applied and Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme.

Supporting students with Special Educational Needs (SEN)

Students with special education needs will need support for their well-being or planned learning experiences to take account of the effect of school closures on their progress.

Schools will get all records of progress for children who attended July Provision to help them support planning for children’s needs in the new term.

Supporting students ‘at very high risk’ of COVID-19

Schools will need to provide additional support for students who are ‘very high risk’ and cannot attend school for health reasons related to COVID-19.

A designated teacher from within the school’s staffing will give additional support to students at ‘very high risk’ of COVID-19.

The designated teacher will liaise with the class teacher and special education teacher on relevant curricular content and classwork.

The designated teacher will:

  • Provide individualised support for the students learning
  • Improve the student’s capacity to become a self-directed learner
  • Support the development of the students digital competency
  • Make sure ongoing contact with classmates and the class teacher

Further information

You can find out more about the supports for families during the COVID-19 public health emergency including

Back to school advice for parents during COVID-19

Back to school helpline topics

Back to school resources for students (multi-lingual)

Supporting your child’s mental health

Supports for parents

Resources for teenagers and adolescents

Resources for people with a disability

Page edited: 4 November 2020