School reopening: No return until it’s safe!

Despite an increase in the rate of infection and moves by Stormont to tighten some restrictions, Education Minister Peter Weir and the entire NI Executive are pushing forward in a pigheaded and dangerous manner to reopen our schools. They are ignoring warnings from education unions that this could be the “next care home crisis”.

Emergency funding now!

The Socialist Party says:

  • No return until it’s safe: education workers, parents and students should democratically decide when and how schools reopen
  • Reduce class sizes to allow physical distancing and improved education
  • Negotiated and regularly updated risk assessments in every school, with outbreak protocols which put health first
  • Education unions must be prepared to support workers, students and parents who refuse to return to unsafe schooling
  • End the transfer tests – no additional pressure on primary school children
  • We need a fully public, integrated and comprehensive education system

Despite an increase in the rate of infection and moves by Stormont to tighten some restrictions, Education Minister Peter Weir and the entire NI Executive are pushing forward in a pigheaded and dangerous manner to reopen our schools. They are ignoring warnings from education unions that this could be the “next care home crisis”.

In his rush to reopen schools, Weir has torn up his own initial plans for a partial return with social distancing measures in place. As was reflected in his reluctance to close schools initially, Weir and other politicians are primarily concerned about getting parents back into the workplace, not health and safety.

Full reopening could increase infection rate by 50%

There is a serious danger that clusters of infection could emerge around large schools. The undermining of social distancing and the large concentrations of pupils could lead to a rapid spread of the virus. Professor Neil Ferguson has predicted up to a 50% increase in the rate of infection if secondary schools fully reopen this autumn.

Recently, we have seen many US schools return to classes, effectively as normal, in states where infection rates are soaring. Tragically, in Georgia, after the first day back in school, a second grader (age 6-7) tested positive for the virus, causing the whole class and related teaching staff to have to self-isolate. LIkewise in France, 70 new cases were reported immediately after academic institutions opened their doors. We need proper safety measures to prevent the same occurring here.

The Westminster and Stormont governments have been woefully poor in providing a coherent plan to reopen education. A starting point should be consulting with parents, teachers, students and health experts in a genuine process, rather than dictating plans from above.

Fight for safe reopening!

Social distancing and hygiene must be rigorously maintained. We need a drastic reduction in class sizes and extra provision of public transport. All funding necessary to expand facilities to meet need must be made available immediately. Given that the UK’s billionaires have increased their wealth by £25 billion since lockdown, it can’t be argued that the money isn’t there.

The U-turn on the attempt to downgrade GCSE and A-level results shows that Peter Weir, Stormont and the Tories can be defeated. The education unions should send out a clear message they will support workers who refuse to return to work and support parents and pupils who do likewise. Parents, students and local communities can and should organise to demand that schools are only opened when it’s safe to do so and that emergency funding is put in place to allow this.

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