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Principal demands rapid testing for NI teaching staff after pupils' positive Covid tests

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The majority of pupils returned to school on Tuesday.

The majority of pupils returned to school on Tuesday.

Colm Lenghan/Pacemaker Press

The majority of pupils returned to school on Tuesday.

A school principal called for rapid testing to be made available to teachers as thousands more children returned to the classroom in Northern Ireland.

Primary 7 children and sixth formers returned last week, but the full school population were back yesterday.

Health and safety measures including hand sanitising stations, staggered start times and one-way systems are in place at schools, and face coverings used by post-primary pupils.

Chris Donnelly, principal of St John The Baptist Primary School in West Belfast, said it was great to have children back l, but called for rapid testing.

“I’ve had a few staff members who have had to be tested in the first week for different reasons, and I’m talking to principals across quite a number of schools and they are giving the exact same picture,” he said.

“It’s no different to any other business in society, the only difference being the knock-on effect of potentially children having to self-isolate, and parents working around that.

“Anecdotally, we are hearing of quite a few cases so that is hitting on children’s attendance and then obviously a number of members of staff too.

“One thing I am finding quite frustrating is trying to get members of staff tested. I was under the impression they would be expediting things so that we could get members of staff tested to know if they were positive because obviously the ripple effect of being in a classroom with 30 kids - and if I can’t get them tested I can’t get them back to work.

“There are a number of things from a school’s perspective that we want ironed out so that it can be made easier to get key workers working in school to get tested.”

Education Minister Peter Weir described the day as a “major step forward”.

“Obviously we will be monitoring the situation closely, but I think this is a good day for education and for all young people, that we are able to get a third of a million children back into school,” he told the BBC.

“There are bound to be some bumps in the road.”

Several cases have already been confirmed in schools here.

Holy Family Primary School in Magherafelt sent a letter to parents on Monday announcing that a primary three pupil had tested positive.

Principal Peter Donnelly said he had sought the most up-to-date advice from the Public Health Agency (PHA) and had told the pupils in the class they must self-isolate before returning to school on September 10.

The principal of Jonesborough Primary School, Donal Keenan, released a letter on the school’s Facebook page on Monday night after a pupil in its primary two and three class tested positive for the virus.

Mr Keenan said the school is working with the PHA and the Department of Education.

Elsewhere, Ballyclare Secondary School was unable to reopen this week after a pupil tested positive after being in the school on August 20.

Two schools on the Falls Road - St Kevin’s Primary and St Louise’s College - previously confirmed positive cases among the school communities.

Separately yesterday, Mr Weir said he “held his hands up” over a photograph of him at a school last week, which showed him not wearing a face covering inside a classroom.

“I was socially distant from them. I didn’t wear a mask on that particular occasion. Perhaps I should have done, I thought it was better to make myself understood,” he said.

Belfast Telegraph