No clarity on masks as principals braced for more chaos

School principals are braced for another week of chaos as high cases of Covid combine with other illnesses to send non-attendance soaring.

here is still no clarity on mask wearing for primary school children aged nine and up, despite Nphet recommending it last week.

A new regime on testing classroom contacts will only get under way today.

Principals say the lack of clear guidance from authorities recently has resulted in “mass confusion” among parents.

Schools which contacted the HSE about confirmed Covid cases at the end of last week were advised that “no further action” needed to be taken regards antigen testing as the guidelines did not kick in until today.

Schools are continuing to grapple with a staffing crisis as they struggle to find substitute teachers to replace those on sick leave.

Figures provided by the Department of Education to the Irish Independent show that between November 1 and 26, there were 6,723 primary school teachers who took a total of 42,864 sick days.

More than 4,500 secondary school teachers took a total of 21,859 sick days during the same period.

In October, 66,000 days were lost to sickness overall, 3,000 of these due to Covid.

By comparison, 9,871 primary and post-primary teachers took a total of just over 40,200 sick days in October 2019.

It marks an increase of more than 25,000 days compared to pre-pandemic times.

A breakdown of Covid leave taken in October this year shows 997 teachers took time off to self-isolate, 510 due to diagnosis, while 1,615 had to restrict their movements.

More than 100 high-risk teachers had to take leave.

Meanwhile a number of schools sent emails to parents to say they had been made aware of children being sent to class while awaiting PCR results.

Others moved to stress a negative antigen test will not suffice if a child is still displaying Covid-19 symptoms.

The Government will not make a decision on whether third class pupils upwards should wear masks until tomorrow.

But from today the Department of Education is implementing a programme where parents or guardians of a child in a pod with a confirmed case can request a free antigen test kit.

A HSE spokesperson said: “This is not contact tracing and this is voluntary, parents do not need to request the tests for their children or do the tests with them.

“Children who are well and have no symptoms should still attend school while doing their antigen tests.”

But Rhodri Mears, principal of Midleton Educate Together National School in Cork, said the decision made earlier this term to remove contact tracing from schools was “the straw that broke the camel’s back”.

He and his family had to self-isolate last week while waiting for PCR results.

“We are seeing children going home, possibly testing positive and yet it’s now down to us as principals to do the public health work,” he told the Irish Independent.

“Moving forward they need to be back engaging with schools. If you can send a letter home for lice or chicken pox, you should be able to do so for Covid which is probably more serious.”

He has had to close one of his classes after five positive tests and five other students were out waiting for results.

Children aged between five and 12 currently have the highest rate of Covid-19 of any age group, with 10,000 cases in the past fortnight.

A school in north Dublin had 112 pupils out of school on one day last week.

Carlow Educate Together School had an attendance rate of just 60pc.

Visit our Covid-19 vaccine dashboard for updates on the roll out of the vaccination program and the rate of Coronavirus cases Ireland

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