Cllr Paddy McDonald (SF).

School staffing crisis raised

The “staffing crisis” at local schools has been raised, with demands for funding for HEPA air filtration devices.

Exasperated by Covid, Sinn Féin’s Paddy McDonald claimed at the December meeting of Cavan County Council that there has been a “lack of planning” in the Department of Education, and “especially” in the Further Education (FE) sector for some time.

Pointing to a recent INTO survey, which found schools were unable to find substitute cover for one in three qualifying days over a two-week period in November, Cllr McDonald said the shortage is also impacting classes at second level.

“One parent told me how her daughter had no teacher for five class periods one day and another has had no maths teacher for over a month now,” he said, adding that Minister for Education, Norma Foley, needs to consider what form the Leaving Cert will take next year. “We all hope that the Leaving Cert will go ahead as normal obviously with the adjustments to exam questions already in place, but students who are not receiving teaching in certain subjects are going to be at a disadvantage.”

“More measures” need to be implemented in schools to prevent the further spread of the virus, continued Cllr McDonald, who contended it is “now clear” contact tracing and HEPA air filtration devices are “absolutely essential”.

“Simply monitoring the air quality is not enough. Many classrooms, particularly in older buildings, do not have adequate ventilation. Some smaller special education resource rooms don’t even have windows. This, coupled with the fact that monitors are being shared among multiple rooms, has led to disastrous consequences.”

He went on to state that children and teaching staff are “freezing in their classrooms”, wearing hats and scarves during the school day, while the windows are open to try to keep them safe. “It shouldn’t have to be this way,” said the Bailieborough representative, who accused the Minister of “dithering and delaying” on ventilation for too long.

“The Minister keeps telling us she wants to keep schools open and functioning well. I agree, but she has to be willing to do what it takes, and to put her money where her mouth is. That means HEPA filters in classrooms.”