Education Minister performs U-turn
The Education Minister has bowed to pressure and announced the return to school of thousands of pupils will be delayed.
It comes just hours before the Assembly was to meet on Thursday to discuss the issue.
Schools were due to reopen on January 4, however on Thursday morning Peter Weir said this would be delayed by a week due to spiralling Covid-19 infection rates.
For years eight to eleven in secondary schools, remote learning will continue throughout January, education minister Peter Weir announced.
Childcare settings, including those attached to schools, pre-school facilities, nurseries and special schools, will open as usual next week.
Schools will also accommodate vulnerable children and those of key workers next week.
Health Minister Robin Swann and Education Minister Peter Weir were locked in talks on Wednesday afternoon as Northern Ireland faced a second day of record Covid infections.
Pressure had been growing for Mr Weir to reassess his decision to allow schools to open as usual on Monday.
The Assembly was due to meet on Thursday to discuss the matter after a successful petition to recall MLAs from their holiday from SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan.
Speaking earlier on Wednesday, Mr McCrossan had said that with a huge rise in Covid-19 levels, a return to school as normal “is deeply concerning”.
Mr McCrossan said teachers were growing increasingly anxious about going back to work.
“Pupils, parents and teachers are extremely anxious and there has been a lack of clarity and support to reassure them and assist,” he said.
Koulla Yiasouma, Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, said that while she expected schools to remain open wherever possible, she would “reluctantly support the closure of some schools or school years, but only if tougher safeguards can be put in place for vulnerable children”.
“Rising figures of positive Covid cases are becoming increasingly concerning and if recommended by medical and scientific officers,“ she said.
“I expect schools to remain open for the estimated 30,000 children deemed vulnerable here, along with the children of key workers. If these children are not engaging in education, unlike the first lockdown, there needs to be a more proactive approach from schools, Educational Welfare Service and Social Services to check on and encourage those children and families to participate in education.”
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