Angry teachers today hit back after Environment Minister Sammy Wilson accused schools of “mollycoddling” children after many closed due to the snow.
More than 30 schools closed their doors yesterday following heavy snowfall and another 15-20 have followed suit today, citing health and safety reasons for the decision.
Mr Wilson, a former teacher himself and the minister with responsibility for promoting road safety, said many people used the weather as an excuse to take the day off.
“Personally, I think it’s a lot of nonsense. It’s no more dangerous to go out in the snow than it is to go out in very wet weather, windy weather or in conditions of poor visibility like mist or fog,” he said.
“I know there are a lot of health and safety nuts out there who are trying to make people take no risks at all. If they had their way, we would all sit in the house all day tied to a chair and never move.
“Kids go out and play in the snow, their parents go out and do other tasks in it, so why can’t they go to school and go to work?
“Some schools are over-cautious and use health and safety as an excuse. We are turning into a society that uses the slightest skiff of snow as an excuse to take a day off,” he told the News Letter.
Frank Bunting, of teachers union INTO, cited a school bus that crashed in Tyrone earlier this winter after driving on an ungritted road as an example of what could happen.
He called for Roads Service to grit roads around remote schools instead of simply gritting roads that carry 1,500 users or more. “If the principal gets it wrong, we’re talking about a child’s life,” he said.
And Helen McHugh, principal of Lagan College in Castlereagh, described why she made the decision to close the school today.
“We seem to have been hit by the worst of the weather this time – it’s worse than yesterday because the snow has frozen,” she said.
“A decision to close is not one that we take lightly. I went into school at 7.15 this morning to carry out a site inspection and I had a very difficult journey over myself with the car sliding all over the place. We didn’t take that decision lightly and we do take the children's education very seriously. When we phoned the parents they were very understanding.”
A Department of Education spokesman said: “The decision to close a school due to bad weather is entirely a matter for the schools themselves. Schools would apply for retrospective permission to close due to bad weather. The department would advise parents who are unsure if their children’s schools are open to contact the school directly or check local media reports.”