Sinn Féin TD for Louth and East Meath Imelda Munster has called on the Minister for Education, Norma Foley TD, to ensure no primary school should lose a teacher ahead of the planned reopening of schools at the end of the month, given the enormous challenges facing schools as a result of the Covid-19 crisis.
Deputy Munster raised the issue after concerns were raised in recent weeks that several schools in Louth would be losing teachers as a result of changes in enrolment numbers for the coming academic year.
Deputy Munster said:
“I have received correspondence from parents at St. Patrick’s National School, Harestown, Monasterboice and the Rampark National School in Jenkinstown, Dundalk who are very concerned that their schools are due to lose teaching positions ahead of the new school term.
“In St Patrick’s NS in Harestown one teaching position will be lost, which will result in mixed level classes of up to 31 children. Parents have said that this will make physical distancing impossible. This teaching post must be reinstated.
“In Rampark NS, two teaching positions have been lost since last September. The school is six pupils short of retaining both teaching positions. This has left the school in a position where the pupil to teacher ratio in classrooms from first class up to sixth class is 32:1
“Both of these schools will now be operating well above the recommended pupil to teacher ratio of 26:1. This is too high in normal circumstances, but it is completely unacceptable in the midst of a pandemic where physical distancing is central to ensuring the safety of children and staff.
“I raised the situation at Harestown with Minister Foley, and received a response from her office outlining why the school was not eligible to retain its existing staff. It is clear from the response that the department is not taking the additional challenges caused by the current crisis into account in its decision making on staff allocations.
“The views expressed in the response I received from her office do not correlate with statements made by the Minister on this very matter prior to her appointment as Minister for Education. On June 8th in the Dáil then-Deputy Foley highlighted the need for a safe environment for our children, and said ‘under the current guidelines we need more, not fewer teachers. I am calling on the Minister and the Department to include additional places for teachers to reflect the current circumstances.’
“I would suggest that the Minister revert to her previous position on this matter and introduce a freeze on staffing levels this year in all primary schools. The positions due to be lost in St Patrick’s NS and Rampark NS must be reinstated immediately to give both schools every opportunity to reopen safely at the end of the month. This is a matter of public safety and the issue must be rectified immediately.