Minister for Education Norma Foley
A Councillor from Kildare has said that it appears that the government "doesn't seem to care" about students.
Social Democrats Cllr Chris Pender made the comments shortly after many pupils and teachers reluctantly returned to schools across the nation yesterday.
Commenting on the contentious issue, Cllr Pender said: "Schools need support, not 'lackluster' leadership."
"For certain students or teachers, a hybrid model of learning was not only attainable but also crucial... particularly for those with underlying health concerns or vulnerable family members at home."
The Newbridge politician continued: "Others who could have taken advantage of this opportunity, who have the luxury of technology and space in their homes, could have done so as well, alleviating the burden of our overcrowded classrooms in outdated buildings.
"The Department (for Education) or the Minister (Norma Foley) hasn't bothered to try, and it is deplorable and downright negligent... but, at the same time, the virus spreads across our communities."
"It honestly beggars belief that, with schools reopening, no one in the education department can tell you how many schools have acquired an air filtration system since they closed before Christmas."
He further claimed that the Minister (for Education) "allowed for a situation" where there will be an inequality of clean air in our classrooms: "That is outrageous and negligent to the point of cruelty, in my opinion.
"The latest data from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre looks at the total number of outbreaks recorded in the fourth wave of the virus between 27 June and 31 December 2021: while the most significant number of outbreaks, 919, was recorded among families in private homes, the following highest figure was associated with school students and staff."
Reiterating the views of his Party's spokesperson for Education, Dublin Central TD Gary Gannon, Cllr Chris Pender elaborated: "I couldn't in conscience call for school closures in their entirety knowing as we know now that this would be incredibly harmful to the children and students who are already among the most vulnerable members of society."
"We need to get laptops into school students' hands and ensure access to the internet, that's how we prevent inequality in learning in the coming weeks when many students will be at home due to COVID."
He continued: "The truth is we've known for a while that we need a hybrid model, yet the Govt doesn't seem to care.
"I completely understand that this is asking certain members of our school community to put themselves in an unsafe environment.
However, that risk could and should have been reduced dramatically with serious mitigation measures being put in place; the next several weeks will be tough for everyone in the school community, whether they are students, teachers, or other members of the school community."
Cllr Pender further claimed that the government appears "incapable of learning lessons and exhibiting some grit in finding solutions".
"A government that hasn't even bothered to look at a central procurement system for filtration systems which would not only support schools but ensure we units are effective and meet the criteria for which they are needed," he concluded.
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