Donegal Priest finds it difficult to understand the logic behind opening schools whilst churches remain closed

The curate who agrees that churches should remain closed at present raises concerns over schools opening

Donegal curate pays tribute to all teaching staff and questions the rational behind opening schools

Curate tries to establish logic behind opening of schools while churches remain closed

A Donegal curate has asked where the logic lies in allowing schools to open on January 11 despite the fact a small number of church-goers cannot come together in church settings. 

Father John Joe Duffy said while he is very much in agreement with the decision not to have people attend Mass, he finds it hard to balance the exceptionally different strands of logic being exercised by experts in relation to both institutions. 

The Creeslough-based priest said: "I am confused that if a Church should not have a congregation of 50 mask-wearing parishones, who are hands sanitised and physically distanced that children, teachers and SNAs be deemed safe in classrooms that would fit into a tiny corner of a church building? 

"By way of clarity, I support the that Masses should have no congregation present, at this time, under the circumstances we are in, due to the extremely high infection rate which seems to be out of control."

He added that the Government should make the right decision now and end uncertainty in order to allow time for teachers to prepare for online classes and teaching. 

"Teachers are 100% committed to the children they teach and this uncertainty helps nobody including parents who will have to make alternative arrangements if schools remain closed."

He said that as a country, we have to balance the rights and well-being of children against the current risk: "I believe that the school holidays should be extended by at least another 2 weeks in order to provide a safe environment for children, their parents, siblings, teachers, SNAs, school staff and bus drivers and all their family and loved ones. With the increasing number of cases having gone over 3000, it is a time for extreme caution. Safety must come first."

The Burtonport-native said that a key factor in the spread of Covid-19 in school going children - is that many children who have contracted the virus remain asymptomatic according to Professor Michael Hibberd of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. 

"The professor believes that between 30 and 40% of adults with the virus do not display any Covid symptoms. For children, however, the asymptomatic figure is higher. The professor says that the figure may be closer to 50% for those in secondary school whilst for boys and girls in primary school around 70% may not be showing symptoms every though they have picked up the virus."  

He said that many children are in over-sized classes numbers in undersized rooms of 50-55 sq metres, not the recommended 80 sqm.

He added that special education and learning support teachers have to go from school to school. The special education and learning support teachers take children from different classrooms. He said that in certain circumstances SNAs, once allocated to a particular child, in recent years go from child to child, classroom to classroom. 

He dismissed the idea of pods, describing it as being a notion and not based in reality. 

He said that Covid-19 within schools is causing anxiety and concern to many. 

He paid tribute to the teaching staff, school staff and transport school who have worked under what he describes as 'exceptional circumstances.'

"The author of a new report regarding the rates of transmission of Covid-19 among schoolchildren has called for “transparency of all data” from the health authorities with regard to the prevalence of the coronavirus in Irish schools. The report, which has been seen by the Irish Examiner, was delivered to Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan earlier this week with a request that he bring it to the attention of the public health authorities. It notes that 86% of cases, according to official statistics, among those aged from 5 to 14-year-old have occurred since the beginning of September, when schools reopened for the first time since the onset of the pandemic," he said. 

Father Duffy added that report also underlines a large number of conditions which are not listed on the HSE’s very-high risk categorisation of illnesses which merit the provision of remote learning, with examples including chronic kidney disease, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, and obesity. 

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