The story about schools reopening continues to garner headlines. I believe it is too soon.
We are in an unprecedented situation with a national health crisis.
People are suffering and some families are under immense pressure trying to keep it all together.
I accept fully that there are students, and not only students with additional needs, that need encouragement and support
I abhor the way it has become divisive, forcing vulnerable families to air their challenges in public. This takes a huge toll on parents, carers and the student involved.
There is a dignity issue here. I accept fully that there are students, and not only students with additional needs, that need encouragement and support. They are not able to cope with the disruption to their routines. Is the answer to rush them back to school? I’m not so sure. What if the virus gains further momentum?
I know that many students with additional needs also have health issues. Unfortunately, the safest place for students with additional needs, for now, is at home where they are safe.
I am a part-time home economics teacher of students with additional needs and I am teaching online.
I promise you, teachers would much prefer to be back in school
It is not ideal, but it is practical in the current climate when the virus is active in our communities. The staff in our school, led by our principal Aisling Power, are determined to provide the best learning experience possible in the circumstances for the students during lockdown.
I promise you, teachers would much prefer to be back in school. How quickly people forget that schools successfully remained open from September to Christmas. Yet, it was a different kind of school with students having to stay in their bubbles and pods. They were at school but still somewhat isolated. The same applied to school staff.
Guidelines were breached. As a result, over a thousand lives were lost in January
Every possible precaution was taken to keep people safe and it worked and case numbers among the student population remained low. Students did meet their immediate peers.
The situation changed after the relaxation over Christmas. Guidelines were breached. As a result, over a thousand lives were lost in January. That’s a thousand families plunged into grief. The virus was simply out of control. It was wrong to take us down to Level 3 before Christmas.
Or was it? Maybe people’s’ mental health had a time of reprieve from the constant drudgery of lockdown. Whatever the view; we have paid a high price.
That is why the decision to reopen schools must be considered from every angle, from the safety of the students and the staff to the education and wellbeing of the student population.
The teachers in our school with the wholehearted support of the special needs assistants (SNAs) and school staff are teaching every day through Seesaw, where teachers can post schoolwork, homework, videos, voice memos and students can respond.
They are enabled by their families and it is quite magic
Many students are fully engaged. There are several online platforms and teachers have chosen the best ones for their particular population. Parallel to that, we teach on Zoom. I cook on Zoom and my students cook with me. I would never have thought this possible, but it is. They are enabled by their families and it is quite magic. They are making tangible progress. Their families are also sharing the school experience and I imagine they are also realising how talented their sons and daughters are as cooks. They will hopefully gain more worthwhile experience as a result.
Am I reaching all my students you might ask? The honest answer is no.
There are some with more complex needs that are unable to engage. This is where the difficulty arises. That difficulty does not always go away when you are face-to-face with students.
I ask what if it goes wrong and they start to get sick?
Nevertheless, it is better in school. Weighing this necessary engagement with learning against a virus that is still very active in the community is the problem. I know that people still want to open schools for the most vulnerable students for valid reasons. I ask what if it goes wrong and they start to get sick? We can make the school safe but how can we make the journey safe and the support staff safe? Teachers and SNAs have not been offered any additional PPE or vaccination.
It is very easy to insist that schools should open but are we ready for the consequences? At the moment I think it is right to wait.