22 May 2022

Longford schools continuing to scramble for staffing cover as Covid cases mount

Covid-19 schools

Longford schools are facing into a second week of Covid-related staffing shortages in the midst of a continued spike in Covid-19 cases.

Longford schools are facing into a second week of Covid-related staffing shortages in the midst of a continued spike in Covid-19 cases.


Staffing shortages are still presenting significant challenges for schools as the local education sector struggles to withstand the unrelenting rise in positive cases and those who are confirmed close contacts of the Omicron variant.

It has also led to pleas for government leaders to allow greater "leeway" for schools beset by Covid-related staff and student absences to close on an individual basis.

According to chairperson of Ballymahon Vocational School's board of management, Cllr Pat O'Toole, greater scope should be afforded to schools that have been under siege from the latest wave of Covid-19.

"I do think they (government) could look at giving more leeway to allow schools to close for a couple of days if they have large numbers of teachers and students out," he said.

Cllr O'Toole was reacting to the re-opening of first and second level institutions yesterday which saw attendances markedly down among staff and students.

Pupil numbers were down by an average of about 30 per cent due to families either self-isolating or because of growing apprehension over returning given the level of Covid-19 in the community.

Schools were also forced to scramble to find substitution cover after around 20 per cent of teachers on average were unable to attend class for Covid reasons.

The Fianna Fáil local politician said the crux of the problem affecting schools was not primarily linked to rising case numbers, but more associated to current Covid-19 close contact rules.

"It's a delicate balancing act," he said.

"The big problem is the whole area of close contacts, that's what's causing a lot of it (absenteeism)."

Cllr O'Toole also said the time had come for senior officials within the Department of Education to "provide clarity" to Leaving Cert students about whether or not accredited grades will be used in this year's state examinations.

It comes after schools across the county last week recorded varying degrees of absences as the rising spread of the Omicron variant intensified.

Around a third of students stayed at home from St Mel's College on the first school day of the new year last Thursday.

Principal, Declan Rowley added staff numbers had also been impacted due to the fact the vast majority are close contacts of confirmed Covid-19 cases.

"We would have been down around 35 per cent in terms of students and we were missing six teachers and two SNAs (special needs assistants)," he revealed.

Despite the fall-off in school attendance, Mr Rowley insisted the situation was one which was negotiated somewhat thanks to the presence of student teachers who were on site.

"That allowed us to cope quite well in the end which made things that bit more manageable," he said.

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