Donegal's Leaving Certificate students will not return to in-class learning next week

"I am left with no alternative but to pause the limited reopening on Monday" - Education minister

Donegal's Leaving Certificate students" will not return to in-class learning next week

Classrooms like this will remain empty

Donegal's Leaving Cert students will not return to in-class learning next week following a decision tonight by the Minister for Education, Norma Foley.

In fact schools will remain closed to students from Monday next, January 1.

Up to this the Cabinet had agreed that Leaving Certificate students would be allowed to attend school three days a week and do remote learning on two other days.

Special needs education classes and schools were also set to resume in-person teaching from next Monday.

However this led to safety concerns being raised by school leaders, parents, teachers, SNAs, and students.

The Department of Education said in a statement tonight its officials met today with education partners including trade unions and school management bodies.

They discussed the "safe provision of in-person learning to pupils in special classes and special schools and to Leaving Certificate students, and remote learning to other students from Monday, January 11".

This meeting was also attended by senior public health specialists.

"In a meeting lasting over two hours Public Health provided their reassurance that it is safe for both students and staff to operate schools at this time utilising the preventative measures that are in place," said the statement.

Minister Foley said it was "with regret" that "despite the confirmation by Public Health that schools remain safe, children in special schools and special classes and Leaving Certificate students" will not return to in-class learning next week.

"My department has engaged with the unions and public health officials with a view to maintaining on site learning for this vulnerable group of students.

"It remains my strong belief that this period of time is crucial for the mental wellbeing of all children with special needs.

"I also felt it was the right thing to extend in-class teaching to our Leaving Certificate students who are approaching a crucial time in their exam year.

"Unfortunately I am left with no alternative but to pause the limited reopening on Monday to allow further engagement with all education stakeholders."

The Department of Education said: "Closing schools has hugely adverse consequences at individual, family and societal level.

"For children, it impacts on wellbeing, learning, on social and emotional development.

"School closure has significant impacts on children with special educational needs. School closure also heightens student anxiety, particularly for the Leaving Certificate cohort, in relation to state examinations.

"In this context the Government decided to prioritise in-person teaching and learning for two specific cohorts; pupils/ students attending special schools and classes and final year Leaving Certificate students.

"This decision was supported by the public health advice available to Government." she said.

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