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‘Delta is out there’

THE Delta variant is out there, but with schools having reopened from lockdowns already and having had to learn how to protect students and staff from the Covid threat, they aren’t facing an unknown enemy this time.
Principal of St Conaire’s in Shannon is Peter Walsh and he said that the guidelines are well established now. “The Department have issued the information and we’re following all that, we have the template from last year, we’re following that and getting on with it. We’re doing all the sanitising, everyone is used to that now, we’ll do the best we can. The staff are very good and they’re well used to it, we’ll see how it goes.”
While there is some familiarity around Covid now, he doesn’t feel that schools will be as relaxed when they reopen as they would have been pre March 2020. “No, I don’t think the stress is gone out of it. You’re depending on the community monitoring itself, and saying there is no Covid in the house. “There is an element of stress there definitely, still. You have teachers and SNAs with underlying conditions, you have children with underlying conditions, but since we went back fully in March there, the template has been set. The children know, the parents know, staff know. It’s not as relaxed as it would be in normal times, we always have to be on our guard.”
When he spoke to the Clare Champion on Tuesday afternoon he hadn’t been informed how many CO2 monitors his school would be receiving.
“I don’t know, I was listening to someone on the radio and he thought he’d be getting one for each room, but I actually don’t know how many we’ll be getting. We’ll still have the ventilation with the windows open and all that sort of stuff. We’ve explained that to the parents. That does work, the template is set and we’ll keep going with that. I’ll be interested to see how those monitors work.”
The 2019/20 and 2020/21 school years were significantly disrupted by Covid-19, to the extent that remote learning largely defined them.
Undoubtedly Covid is still a major problem, but now everyone with an underlying condition and most without one is already vaccinated, while schools are well versed in the measures they can take to prevent the spread of infection.
While the peak of the Delta variant hasn’t come yet, it looks very unlikely that Covid will force another mass closure in the coming months, and Peter is certainly hopeful there won’t be one.
“Oh absolutely. Unless things go bad we’ll have to get through the year, I think the children deserve it. The teachers did a magnificent job with the distance learning, but it’s not the same. They need to be back for socialisation, interactions with their peers. They were delighted when they came back in March, delighted to be back.”
When St Conaire’s carried out standardised testing, it found that the students’ performance was on a par with previous years, which Peter says was a testament to the efforts made on all sides during lockdown. However he feels that those children with some additional needs were the ones to lose out most.
“I think children that are more vulnerable are the big losers really. Those with extra needs, complex physical or intellectual needs, they lost out more than anyone else.”
Women can’t receive a vaccine during the early stages of pregnancy, leading to some concerns about newly pregnant teachers returning to the classroom, and Peter hopes that there will be reasonable accommodations made.
“I would hope that Public Health and the Department of Education would see fit to support those teachers.
“They can work from a distance, I know the INTO has lobbied extensively on it, I’ve been listening to John Boyle and I don’t know what the numbers are nationally, but I think it’s better to be safe than sorry, that’s how I’d see it. The teachers would be working from home, but they can support the children and the school.”
He is looking forward to reopening next week, in what will hopefully be the most normal school year for some time.
“We’re more or less ready to roll. We’re opening an ASD class next week so that’s going to be challenging and interesting and we’re looking forward to welcoming the children in.
“I’m looking forward to getting back, it’s normality, it’s what we do and what we’re there for.”

About Owen Ryan

Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.