SDLP Education Spokesperson Daniel McCrossan has urged DUP Education Minister Michelle McIlveen to come up with a comprehensive plan to protect schools from Covid-19.
Mr McCrossan was speaking as the Assembly was recalled on Thursday to discuss the Covid crisis that has developed in schools across the North as pupils returned for the new term.
He said the blame for the situation lay squarely at the feet of the Education Minister and her department for their lack of planning, despite clear warning signs about the situation that was about to unfold.
The West Tyrone MLA said, “It is highly regrettable that we have ended up in the position where the Assembly had to be recalled in order to force Minister McIlveen to do her job and take her responsibility to these children seriously. All the warning signs were ignored, despite a rise in Covid cases across the North and the potential for another rise as schools reopened and restrictions eased, the Minister and her department still supplied our schools with totally inadequate guidance.
“Only when Minister McIlveen faced insurmountable pressure from principals, parents, politicians and the media did she finally acknowledge the scale of the problems, with little put forward in the way of meaningful solutions so far. I welcome the Public Health Agency (PHA) taking over control of contact tracing in schools. Principals, teachers and other school staff have been spending countless hours on this and been left unable to focus on their primary role – educating children. The North was the only part of these islands where school staff were expected to carry out this function and I can’t fathom why the Minister felt this would be workable.
“Our schools are in a dire situation with Covid-19 and we have yet to see a workable or effective plan to tackle these issues. A string of failures from Minister McIlveen and her department have gotten us here, but there is no time for her to feel sorry for herself – she has to pull schools out of this tailspin before our education system grinds to a halt. The Minister needs to listen to our principals and present us with a fresh plan to allow our children to continue their education and keep them safe from Covid-19.”