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Principals and parents share frustration on coronavirus school closure stance in Northern Ireland

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Pressure is mounting on ministers to close all schools after many parents removed their children from classrooms in Northern Ireland over coronavirus fears.

Pressure is mounting on ministers to close all schools after many parents removed their children from classrooms in Northern Ireland over coronavirus fears.

Pressure is mounting on ministers to close all schools after many parents removed their children from classrooms in Northern Ireland over coronavirus fears.

Pressure is mounting on ministers to close all schools after many parents removed their children from classrooms in Northern Ireland over coronavirus fears.

It comes as a student at a Belfast school tested positive for Covid-19. St Dominic's Grammar School has shut its doors while a deep clean is undertaken after a pupil was confirmed to have the virus.

However, across Northern Ireland confusion and frustration reigns among school principals and parents.

St Dominic's principal Carol McCann said on the school's social media she was awaiting guidance from the Department of Education, the Education Authority and examining boards - but advised pupils not to attend the college for the rest of this week at least.

On Saturday, First Minister Arlene Foster said schools in Northern Ireland will close at some time in the near future and when they do it will be for 16 weeks.

Education Minister Peter Weir said yesterday that while he recognised "the concerns of schools and parents", he has yet to set a closing date for schools in Northern Ireland.

This has led to many schools using the planned closure this week for St Patrick's Day to prepare their students for remote learning, with one Londonderry head teacher saying the politicians left him with no choice but to take "appropriate action".

Michael Allen, principal of Lisneal College in the Waterside area of Derry, said the situation he and other school head teachers are in "is like no other" ever experienced.

He said: "There is great uncertainty and speculation in regard to appropriate actions needed to combat the spread of the coronavirus. Indeed, it is evident that our political leadership cannot even agree on the best way forward.

"Our First Minister stated that schools will close and that the period of closure would last longer than 16 weeks.

"I was taken aback by the statement and it became apparent to me that schools must be afforded time to prepare access to online resources so that pupils can access learning and teaching provision from home."

Like many school heads, Mr Allen is using these days of planned closure for St Patrick's Day to prepare remote learning for his pupils.

"The current situation we face is like no other I have seen in my lifetime. At this point I do not know if pupils or staff will be able to access our campus. I do not know if lessons to prepare students for GCSEs and A-Level examination/assessments will be allowed to go ahead and I do not know if public transport will be available for pupils to travel to school," he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Weir said his department has set up a Covid-19 planning group "to co-ordinate efforts across the education sector" and issued new guidelines to schools.

In addition to the well-cited guidelines of sending children and staff home if they display symptoms, Mr Weir said young children should be supervised to make sure they wash their hands for 20 seconds.

He added: "I want to make clear that any decision to close schools and other educational settings will be backed up by expert, clear and unambiguous advice and guidance provided to me by the Chief Medical Officer, the Public Health Agency and the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies."

Belfast Telegraph