The primary responsibility for the return of children to school this academic term lies with their parents and guardians. This is also the case for parents and guardians of children living with them in accommodation provided by the International Protection Accommodation Service (IPAS) of my Department.
Children residing in accommodation centres are educated within the mainstream education system. This means that the children of applicants for International Protection access free primary and post-Primary education in the same manner as the general population.
The Roadmap for the Full Return to Schools sets out how the public health advice provided to the Department of Education and Skills on the safe return to school can be implemented at individual school level. The Government approved over €375 million in additional funding necessary to support its implementation. To date, the payments made to schools exceed €160 million. This includes payments for minor works to support school reconfiguration, funding for additional cleaning in schools to support improved hygiene, funding for additional supervision at post primary level to support maintaining of physical distancing as well as significant funding for all schools for appropriate PPE and hand sanitising.
I can assure you that my officials and all centre staff adhere to local public health advice in relation to children returning to school.
As recommended by the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), a comprehensive programme of COVID-19 testing carried out by the HSE is planned across all accommodation centres housing asylum seekers and refugees in the State for all residents and staff, including children aged 5 years or older. Testing is voluntary and free and I encourage all residents to avail of the test in order to help protect themselves and their children. However, it is important to say that neither a refusal to participate nor a positive result will affect a person’s status or application for international protection in any way.
Periodically, some students may be required to self-isolate for a short time on foot of medical advice. In the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, each accommodation centre was asked to set aside rooms to facilitate self-isolation. These facilities are still available if required.
I understand that schools will endeavour to support these students to catch up with their learning on their return to school. In some instances, where adapted education provision is already being provided by teachers to very high risk students in a school, it may be possible for students who are self-isolating to avail of that adapted provision.